Stephen King is the master of horror so it is notable when Mr. King says that a book “scared the hell out of me” and is “old-school horror at its best,” then it is definitely a book that I will want to read. These quotes were given to “The Troop” by Nick Cutter which moved that novel to the top of my reading list, but then I had to wait until it was closer to publication in order to read and review as I do not really want to review a book six months before release. Since the January publication date was fast approaching (although I have now found out that the release date is now February 25), I finally dug into the book with the hopes that it would scare me as well.
Boy Scout Troop 52 was on a weekend trip into the wilderness of a small island off the coast of Prince Edward Island. They anticipate a weekend away from civilization in which the five boys will learn survival and camping techniques from their scout master and spend the nights around the campfire telling scary stories. Everything is going as planned until the stranger shows up.
This was not an ordinary stranger. He was dressed in rags and wasting away. It was obvious that he was sick and the scout master, who was a doctor, is determined to help him. In the process, the scout master becomes ill himself as whatever plagued the stranger was passed along to him. The five adolescents soon find themselves on their own and struggling for their lives as the illness spreads through their ranks. When the military closes off the island in an attempt to contain whatever is causing the illness, the children know that they are in a struggle for their lives from which none of them may escape.
“The Troop” is a straightforward horror novel that quickly amps up the action and does not let up until the final page. In this regard, I found the book to be refreshing. Cutter does not pull any punches in the book and the action and horror is pervasive and unrelenting. There is also a fair amount of gore in the book which is another element that is often missing from horror published by larger publishers. Cutter seems to have come up with a story that he wants to tell and proceeds to tell that story in the way he wants. It is sometimes shocking and made even my stomach turn on a couple of occasions. “The Troop” is definitely a throwback novel similar to what horror was a couple of decades ago before the more popular authors started turning down the horror elements of their novels to appeal to a wider audience. “The Troop” is somewhat reminiscent of early Stephen King although I would tend to compare it more to authors such as Jack Ketchum or Edward Lee (at least his less extreme works).
With all of that being said, “The Troop” is not without its flaws. The novel almost seems to be a young adult novel at times although the topic and the events of the story are too mature for a young adult audience. This gives it a bit of a confusing feel at times as it did make me reflect back on some of the favorite novels of my youth but at times made me feel as if the events of the story were a little gratuitous and out of place. I also felt as if the story was a little jumbled at times. While there is this tale of the adolescents fighting for their lives against an enemy that they cannot completely understand, there is also another backstory of how this came to happen in the first place that hints at a conspiracy that was much greater and more involved than the rest of the story could support. Was this a tale of children coping with the world on their own when adults have failed them or a greater statement on society and the evils of the modern world’s obsession with vanity? I do not think that the answer is easy to determine and this served to undermine the impact of the story. “The Troop” is definitely a novel worth reading but it is not a great novel. Since this is Cutter’s first novel, it is easy to forgive the missteps that the story takes and I would be eager to read more of Cutter’s work in the future to see how he grows as a writer.
I would like to give a special thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for this advanced reading copy. “The Troop” is scheduled to be released by Gallery Books on February 25, 2014.