First in the trio of books released for the start of the second tv series. There are a couple of internal references to tell you that it’s set between “To the last man” and “Meat”, but there’s nothing that requires specific knowledge of the show other than the basics of who Torchwood are and what they do.
Baxendale takes an old British legend and puts a Torchwood spin on it, as a water hag causes havoc around Cardiff. The book starts with several different strands which have no connection other than stagnant water, and for good measure tosses in a flu epidemic that isn’t. It takes the Torchwood team some time to connect all the clues, by which time they’re infected as well. Much running around chasing or being chased by bad guys ensues, making for a plot that offers both thoughtful research by the team and physical mayhem before they manage to close down a major threat.
Excellent characterisation, and I could hear the voices while reading much of the dialogue, as Baxendale catches the distinctive speech patterns well. There’s a decent spread of word count across the characters, and good ensemble play between various combinations rather than focusing on only one or two (though don’t go looking for any overt reference to the relationship between Jack and Ianto, because it isn’t there). Owen gets a fair bit of attention, as this is partly a medical mystery and his expertise is directly relevant to one strand of the story. Owen’s very likeable in doctor mode, without entirely losing his nasty edge with his teammates, which is the way I like him.
There’s a lot of good banter, and some nice one-liners, not just for the main characters but for the one-offs created for this story.
It’s a solid story that makes good use of both the inspiring myth and various quirks of the Torchwood universe. This isn’t just a generic science fantasy with the right names pasted in, but something that’s very clearly Torchwood. There are some minor disappointments (in particular, I felt the ending was rather abrupt), but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I can see why people with different tastes might have found it a bit flat, but it happens to hit my buttons rather well.