BLOG Torchwood book review

Blogger Alasdair Stuart casts his eye over Torchwood: The Men Who Sold The World by Guy Adams

The newest wave of Torchwood novels have a unique selling point; they’re all prequels to Miracle Day. Guy Adams’s entry focuses on CIA Agent Rex Matheson and benefits hugely both from the presence of the cheerfully nasty Rex and Adams’s own flair for the unpleasant.

The British government, strapped for cash, sell off equipment and weapons Torchwood recovered. They go to the Americans, “special relationship” and all that, but the deal goes south. No one involved knows, or particularly cares, what the equipment is, just that the money changes hands. Apart, that is, from the CIA Black Ops team sent to pick them up who see the weapons as something very different; an opportunity. Rex Matheson, sent to track them, sees the same thing. He has a career to get back on track and bringing these men in, or down, is the fastest way to do it.

The Men Who Sold The World plays more like Spooks than Torchwood for most of its length, and that’s a compliment. Adams slips into the world of shadowy, silent men doing awful things with consummate ease and puts Rex Matheson perfectly in place in doing so, giving the CIA’s grumpiest agent a real grounding. He’s goal driven, doesn’t particularly care about the feelings of others, but will instantly put his career on the line in order to save someone’s life. Rex is a good man. He really isn’t happy about it, but he’s a good man and Adams continually plays with that dichotomy. He also nails Rex’s speech patterns and it’s hard not to hear Mekhi Phifer attack some of the best lines with the same gusto he does on the show. Adams also provides interesting, and brave, context to Rex’s relationship with Esther. Rex knows he manipulates her and doesn’t particularly care. She’s an asset, just one he can use better and faster than most. It’s a brave choice to give a lead character such an unlikeable trait but it works and fits perfectly with the show.

Adams’s plot is as clean, mean and direct as Rex. The way a single weapon tears the CIA unit apart is fascinating to watch; and the interludes (as it passes through numerous uncaring sets of hands before briefly being discovered by Jack, Gwen and Ianto) ground the story beautifully. This is a story based on the “for wont of a nail” principle and Adams builds on that simple idea to massive effect.

Then there’s Mr Wynter. The polite, softly spoken old man who is pitted against Rex is a beautiful monster, George Smiley with far more of a fondness for violence. Mr Wynter walks quietly through the book and death follows him, and the way he interacts with Rex – the two sides of the coin they find themselves on – is where the book’s thematic meat lies. Mr Wynter is the past. Rex may be the future. If he lives long enough.

The Men Who Sold The World is assured, confident and cheerfully unpleasant. This is a novel about a bad world, and the man who will defend it, and his career, to the death. Rex Matheson may not be a good man, but he’s good enough and based on this novel, I’d like to see him stick around. If anyone deserves a true miracle, it’s him.

This is a personal article by blogger Alasdair Stuart. Read more from our team of bloggers here. The Men Who Sold The World is released today by BBC Books.