Well, a week or two before I wrote this review, I was reminded about the sci-fi horror TV show “Torchwood” after talking to a relative about “Doctor Who”. This then stirred a vague recollection of seeing Torchwood-themed books in bookshops ages ago.
After a quick internet search, I ended up getting second-hand copies of a couple of these books. So, for today, I thought that I’d look at Sarah Pinborough’s 2011 novel “Torchwood: Long Time Dead”. After all, it was apparently a prequel to the only complete series of “Torchwood” that I’ve actually seen (eg: the “Miracle Day” series from 2011).
Interestingly, although this novel references the TV show a few times, there are enough explanations and recaps for the story to be enjoyable if you’ve only got vague memories of the show or if you haven’t seen it. Likewise, this novel also tells a fairly self-contained story too.
So, let’s take a look at “Torchwood: Long Time Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a government scientist called John Blackman exploring the burnt-out ruins of a secret underground facility with orders to recover any technology found within it. He hears someone groaning and, to his surprise, finds a woman lying on the ground in one of the rooms. Her stomach starts to glow red. But, before John can talk to her, she stabs him with a shard of glass.
Meanwhile, in Cardiff, a detective called D.I. Cutler is spending some free time watching a mysterious government site that has sprung up in the city after a terrorist attack three weeks earlier. He doesn’t quite understand why, but he has become obsessed with this strange site.
Back underground, the site’s commander – Elwood Jackson – discovers John’s grisly corpse and is shocked to find that his eyes are missing. Whilst all of this is going on, the resurrected woman, former Torchwood agent Suzie Costello, has managed to sneak out of the facility and travel to a safety deposit box she set up in case of emergencies. However, to her surprise, she finds that she has an urge to kill again…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling sci-fi horror thriller that also vaguely reminded me of classic 1980s horror fiction (eg: Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc..) too, which is never a bad thing 🙂
In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good. Although this novel contains a few moments of gory horror and also uses the classic splatterpunk technique of introducing several random background characters who only survive for a single chapter, the main types of horror in this novel are psychological horror, cosmic horror, paranormal horror, implied horror, death-based horror, tragic horror and/or character-based horror.
These types of horror work really well and, although they aren’t usually outright scary, they help to add a rather ominous and creepy atmosphere to the story. Not only will the reader occasionally find themselves sympathising with the story’s creepy villain, Suzie Costello, but the novel’s themes of death and trauma and it’s vaguely Lovecraftian hints about a terrifying hell dimension are also fairly creepy too.
In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, this novel is probably a bit more like H.P.Lovecraft than anything else. In other words, whilst there are references to alien technologies, monsters from outer space and other dimensions, the story focuses slightly more on the effects that these mysterious things have on the characters rather than on the mechanics behind them (although the novel does give an explanation for why Suzie returned to life). But, although the sci-fi stuff is a bit more of a background detail than I’d expected, it is well written and helps to add a lot more atmosphere to the story.
The novel’s thriller elements are fairly interesting too, with the story mostly focusing on both D.I. Cutler’s investigation into a mysterious series of deaths and on Suzie’s attempts to understand what is going on whilst also staying one step ahead of the authorities. This adds a lot of suspense and drama to the story, which helps to keep it really compelling.
In terms of the characters, they’re fairly good. Most of the characters get enough characterisation to make you care about what happens to them, with the novel’s best character probably being Suzie – who, although clearly the story’s villain, is written about in such a way that you’ll probably end up either feeling sorry for and/or sympathetic towards her during a few parts of the story.
In terms of the writing, this novel is fairly good too. The novel’s third-person narration is written in a fairly fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” way that also focuses quite heavily on the characters’ thoughts and feelings (which helps to add to the story’s horror elements too). Likewise, there are also a few italicised flashback scenes that presumably describe moments from previous series of the TV show too.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At an efficient 250 pages in length, it never feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, this novel is written in a reasonably fast-paced way and also uses an interesting cross between a thriller novel-style structure (with alternating chapters focusing on the two main characters) and a 1980s splatterpunk novel-like structure (with some chapters and segments focusing on random background characters dying in horrible ways).
All in all, this is a fairly decent sci-fi horror thriller novel that is also vaguely reminiscent of the classic horror fiction of the 1980s too 🙂 The characters are well-written and the plot is both creepy and compelling too.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.