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Domino Paperback – December 30, 2003

3.2 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This record of an artist's adventures in the demimonde of 18th-century London, by the author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Ex-Libris, has every bit of the former books' attention to detail but little of their fluidity. When a talented young artist, Sir George Cautley, goes to London from Shropshire in 1780 to make something of himself, he meets a glamorous, mystifying woman named Lady Petronella Beauclair. As he paints her portrait, she tells him the labyrinthine story of an old man named Tristano, one of Europe's most renowned castrati from decades ago, who is a dormant social presence in London. As Cautley begins studies with Sir Endymion Starker, a famous artist he meets while gambling, he also makes the acquaintance of Starker's mistress, Eleanora, who has her own sad tale to tell. She claims that Cautley's rival for Lady Beauclair's affections is the same man who humiliated her many years previously. After a maze of masquerades-some at parties, others in real life-nothing turns out to be as it seems, and Cautley finds himself committing acts he would have never dreamed possible, from sadomasochism to murder. King's craft is uneven: at times his writing has a lush, impressionistic glow, but many of the book's clambering sentences require tremendous navigation to finish, with no reward. The mysteries and unexpected plot twists of the book are enjoyable enough, but at times they are tenuous or strained. There are some memorable scenes, but in its stabs at something higher than simple entertainment, the book falls short.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

First published in Britain, King's aptly titled fictional debut follows the U.S. success of his second novel, Ex-Libris. It tells how young and naive George Cautley, an amateur physiognomist and aspiring artist, makes his way through 18th-century London's high society, where nothing is as it seems and everyone wears a mask. From masquerade balls and elaborate drawing rooms to the dark and menacing maneuverings behind the scenes, King effortlessly evokes a lively age of deception and disguise as Cautley is drawn into a web of intrigue spun by beautiful and tempestuous Lady Beauclair, castrato Tristano, and other characters. Replete with mystery and suspense and immersed in vivid historical details, this work is also a sharp, philosophical musing on the disguises of the world and the search for the truth that lies beneath. Fans of Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost and other literary historical mysteries will enjoy. Recommended for most public libraries. [In January 2003, Walker will publish the author's nonfiction Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling.-Ed.]-Ann Kim, "Library Journal.
--Ann Kim, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (December 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142003360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142003367
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,369,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on September 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Narrator George Cautley is an old man at the opening of this lush, dense story of 18th century London, King's first novel (written before his bestsellers, "Ex-Libris" and "Brunelleschi's Dome"). At a masquerade ball Cautley captures a young man's attention with the portrait miniature of a beautiful woman known as Lady Beauclair. Cautley offers to tell the boy his - and her - story, a tale of innocence and masquerade, deception, jealousy and corruption, that ends, Cautley says, with his becoming a murderer.
Cautley's narrative is actually two life histories, 50 years apart. His tale begins with his arrival in London in 1770 at age 17, and the second, Lady Beauclair's story of the operatic castrato Tristano, takes place 50 years earlier and is told to Cautley as Beauclair sits for her portrait. Yes, this becomes confusing, but the reader's disorientation is part of the fun, dovetailing playfully with King's themes of elusive identity, perception and deceptive appearance.
Cautley comes to London seeking his fortune as a portrait painter. The orphaned son of a country parson, he is earnest, naïve, clumsy, ambitious, and a bit of a prig. A potent combination. Taken by his rich friend Toppie to one of the masquerades so popular at the time, Cautley is relieved of what little money he has by a set of genial card sharps who gladly lend him more. His resulting insurmountable debt turns out to be his best luck, as the lender is none other than the man Cautley has been trying to meet, the famous portrait painter Sir Endymion Starker.
Later at the same party Cautley becomes disoriented by the numerous passageways, and is rescued by a glamorous costumed lady who bears a startling resemblance to a portrait he has just been admiring on the wall.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel is rich with historical and period detail and many of the passages in the book are beautifully written. There are also some very funny scenes throughtout. Yet it is a difficult story to follow and many aspects of it are just implausible. It really lacks a plot and never solves the mystery. If you love historical fiction then this book might hold your interest, but much of the book just does not make sense.
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Format: Paperback
I really wanted to like this book. I am a great fan of historical fiction and have enjoyed some of Ross King's later books, particularly "Michaelangelo and The Pope's Ceiling". I struggled through to the middle of "Domino" before I finally gave up on it, deciding that there are too many other good books to waste anymore time on this one.

The major flaw in "Domino" is that there is not a single likeable character in the story. Neither is there someone despicable enough to hold the reader's attention. In this, his first book, Ross King doesn't give the reader any reason to care about the fate of the characters. The supposed mystery is a Domino itself - a trumped up, unimportant story masquerading as a fascinating life story that is not even interesting.

I recommend that if you like Ross King, read his later books. He seems to have developed a lot after this one.
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Format: Hardcover
In the 1770s, Geoge Cautley moved from the British countryside to find his fortune as an artist in London. George held firmly to the belief that appearances are everything, that one need not dig deeply to discover the true nature of one's friends and acquaitances, of events and occurences. George, in recounting his story years later, admits, in so many words, that he was dead wrong. Geoge's story is an amusing, engaging, complicated tale. The London he inhabits, with it's ridiculous wig and dress codes, is quite entertaining . He befriends Lady Beauclair, a woman who regales him with the story of Tristano, a man whose fortunes ultimately become entangled with George's. George, in recounting his story, certainly weaves a tangled web, but it is a fun web to unravel. Enjoy.
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Format: Hardcover
Almost seventy and needing a walking stick to stay erect, artist George Cautley finds the attention of the eighteen year old boy he dubs Ganymede quite interesting even when the lad is more astonished at the portrait of Lady Beauclair. George tells the lad that the beauty was also dubbed "monstrous crime". Ganymede needs to hear her story so an amused George agrees to tell all he knows about the lovely lady he painted several decades ago.
George explains that his fortune dramatically improved when he painted a portrait of sophisticated Lady Beauclair, who remits payment by telling him the tragic story of Tristano, who performed years earlier as a member of the Handel Opera Company. As Cautley meets others through his acquaintance with Lady Beauclair, he hears their stories. As he learns about the secret world of the Milan opera houses, George realizes that he might be the modern Tristano as his life begins to parallel that of the singer.
Fans of eighteenth century European historicals will fully relish the depth of detail provided by Ross King in DOMINO. The plot loosely ties together the stories narrated by several characters while providing strong look at high society following the "South Sea Bubble" financial scandal that destroyed many fortunes. Though quite revealing of a world filled with duplicity and well written the over packed story line feels at times like standing room only at a Milan opera house or sardines in a can as there is no breathing room. Still sub-genre fans will appreciate this powerful period piece that makes the latter half of the eighteenth century come vividly alive.
Harriet Klausner
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