Pros: Surprisingly fascinating
Cons: Starts out a little awkwardly
Rating: 4 out of 5
Nick Cutter’s The Troop kicks off with a troop of Scouts and their Scoutmaster off by themselves on an island for several days. An extremely emaciated, hungry man shows up, and Scoutmaster Tim, a doctor, takes him in and tries to help him. Unfortunately, the man is infected with a bio-engineered parasite that is capable of spreading very easily and quickly. The man smashes the troop’s radio, so they have no way to get in touch with the mainland. They have to keep themselves alive for the several days before their ride home is supposed to show up.
Pretty much all of the book’s flaws are front-loaded, and remind me of the truism that often the first few pages or chapters of a book consist of the author warming up and will need to be trimmed or cut. Cutter decided to give us info-dumps on all of the boys’ personalities and histories, often in the middle of dialogue. The funny thing is, those weren’t necessary. This is not a case where he had to do info-dumps because the characters are shallow. It’s a case where they aren’t necessary because he fully fleshes out these kids’ personalities and hangups throughout the book, through conversation and action. There are also some flawed metaphors up front, but again, the book recovers from its awkward beginning.
For various reasons (sorry to be vague–I’m trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible), I wasn’t convinced that Cutter would be able to draw enough out of his setup to make for an interesting, decent length of horror novel. I was, thankfully, wrong. Watching the kids slowly get drawn into things, and watching their various flaws magnify and/or change as their situation changed, was fascinating. I was hoping for an engrossing horror novel, and that’s exactly what I got. Once past that stumbling beginning, I absolutely loved The Troop.
This is a very bloody novel, but not in the sense of splatter-horror. The horror is both physical and psychological. One warning: there is a flashback scene of animal torture/killing.
Note (mild spoiler) added after someone brought it up with me: there’s a scene in which the non-surgeon doctor decides to operate on the emaciated man. There’s no reason why this would in any way be a good idea. The reason it worked well enough for me is that by that time the Scoutmaster was largely obeying the voices in his head after he started to go insane, which for me buys it a just-good-enough pass. Your mileage may vary!