The Undertaker’s Gift by Trevor Baxendale

The Undertaker's Gift by Trevor Baxendale
The Undertaker’s Gift by Trevor Baxendale

The novel “The Undertaker’s Gift” by Trevor Baxendale was published for the first time in 2009.

The situation in Cardiff is even more complicated than usual with a number of alien creatures arriving on Earth through the Rift. For Torchwood team avoiding serious consequences is more than ever a full-time job but in this case it also means having a jelly creature in custody that can release a deadly electric shock.

Things get even worse when the lawyers from Horkala Corp pop up, announcing they’re suing Earth for failing to manage the 21st century. Even Captain Jack Harkness is at risk with an opponent who knows his secrets and the solution to the problem could be connected to a funeral that’s quite out of the ordinary with mysterious pallbearers.

“The Undertaker’s Gift” is part of a series of novels connected to the TV show “Torchwood“, a “Doctor Who” spinoff. The size is the same as “Doctor Who” books starting from the Eleventh Doctor. In the first books the font was smaller while in the following one the font is the same size as in “Doctor Who” books.

“The Undertaker’s Gift” is indicated as set after the end of “Torchwood” second TV season, which means a period when the relationship between Captain Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones has already begun. However, reading the descriptions of the relationship between the two characters the novel seems set earlier, so much that it seems almost more focused on the relationship between Jack and Gwen Cooper.

It may be that for some reason the book’s publication wasn’t handled taking into account this element of its plot: the important thing is to be aware of it to avoid confusion and perplexity while reading it. For the rest, the descriptions of the protagonists gave me the impression that the author knows them and that’s not surprising considering that in 2008 in the same series his “Something in the Water” was already published.

This novel has particularly pronounced horror tones with parts in which certain descriptions are rather crude. I’ve only read a part of Torchwood’s novels so I don’t know if there are others with those characteristics. Torchwood is a show oriented to an adult audience so it’s not surprising that a story can have certain tones, let’s just say that in this case the reader must be above all not too impressionable.

It’s appropriate that such a novel begins with a mysterious funeral that remains a significant moment throughout the story. What follows is the introduction of some characters, whose importance will be clarified, in a subplot initially parallel to the one focused on Torchwood team.

My main problem in “The Undertaker’s Gift” is precisely with those characters created for the novel because they didn’t seem interesting. It’s my personal reaction that made the reading a bit dull because those characters take up a lot of room in the story.

My negative feeling was increased by the fact that the novel’s ending is really very rushed. The story’s tone quickly tends toward the apocalyptic, with the whole world at risk, and the reader is led to wonder how the Torchwood team will save the Earth. In my opinion the solution chosen by Trevor Baxendale is the dullest.

It can be said that the solution shows an extreme version of the concept about the journey being important and not the destination. The essence is that “The Undertaker’s Gift” is built in a way that may especially appeal to Torchwood fans interested in the protagonists and the relationships among them.

Captain Jack Harkness faces an opponent who may even have the means to kill him or at least reduce him to such a condition that is practically equivalent to death. This forces him to think seriously about the prospect of death while in general his problem is the opposite.

Personally the element connected to Captain Jack Harkness seemed too little to make “The Undertaker’s Gift” really exciting. The novel’s quick pace and the limited length help to go beyond this problem and if you are interested in Torchwood books for their protagonists and not for their plots you might like it anyway.

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