Right off the top, I have to say - I had this review written and then discovered they had changed the cover from the original - which was much better in my opinion. But what's inside is good, no matter what the cover looks like.
Nick Cutter is a pseudonym for a Canadian author Craig Davidson. His latest novel is The Troop. Remember last week I said I liked scary stories? Well, this one filled the bill - and more.
Five Scouts from Troop Fifty Two set off with Scoutmaster Tim for a weekend camp on isolated Falstaff Island, Prince Edward Island.
Their first night there, a gaunt, skeletal man appears and begs to be fed - he's so very, very hungry. The reader alone is privy to his thoughts..."Would they come for him? He was their failure - a human blooper reel - but also the keeper of their secret. And he was so. so toxic. At least, that's what he overheard them say."
Okay, great set-up eh? Isolated island, scary, weird guy showing up and five fourteen year old boys left to face whatever has come to camp on Falstaff Island with them.
"And so when adults find themselves in a situation where that nimbleness (of mind) is needed ..well they can't summon it. So they fall to pieces: go insane, panic, suffer heart attacks and aneurysms brought on by fright. Why?" They simply don't believe it could be happening. That's what's different about kids: they believe everything can happen, and fully expect it to."
But, there's dissension among the troop as well. Cutter has given us five protagonists - all with their own strengths and weakness. A bit predictable - there is a smart one, a fat one, a psycho one, etc. But Cutter does an excellent job at fleshing them all out and making them quite believable.
The infection process is squeamishly nasty - I found myself doing the book version of covering your eyes with a pillow whilst watching a scary move - I started skimming the visceral, detailed descriptions. It's not something I usually do, but Cutter had me squirming.
While the boys are trying to figure what's going on, Cutter employs a good tactic to let us, the reader, know the truth. Newspaper articles, police reports and classified documents are interspersed throughout the scenes on the island. (As I noted the locations used in the book, I realized I had visited many of them!)
The Troop is classified as a horror book - not my usual genre. But it was undeniably addicting. The cause of the contagion/virus/mutation is revealed by the final page. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry - it's an excellent social comment on human behaviour.
Fans of Stephen King would love this book. (And King himself says The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down. This is old-school horror at its best."
Think Lord of the Flies paired with Scott Smith's The Ruins. And just for fun - here's the original cover.