It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.
And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected…or one another.
In all honesty, I have no clear recollection of exactly how I stumbled across this book other than reading a recommendation from the master himself, Stephen King (probably on Twitter). I’d never even heard of Nick Cutter (a pseudonym for author Craig Davidson) much less any of his books, but I certainly trusted Stephen King’s opinion, so I decided to forgive the unusually high price of $6.99 and give it a try. I’m happy to report I was not disappointed.
Like many of Stephen King’s most compelling books, the story revolves around kids. A group of five teenage boys who grew up together in a small seaside town with all the quaint pleasures and ugly realities that go along with it. An added dimension of tension is added by their isolation on a small, secluded island a few miles off the coast for their annual weekend scouting trip.
The horror quickly escalates as the boys and their scoutmaster are faced with a deadly and unimaginable terror. Their friendships, loyalties and long-held beliefs are severely tested as the boys question the motivations of each other as well as the adults they've always trusted.
The group dynamics within the scout troop have a level of complexity and honesty that feels acutely authentic. Each of the boys occupies a well-established space in their social hierarchy, mostly dictated by physical strength and aggression. As the story progresses, the hierarchy is at first confirmed, then challenged and eventually almost entirely flipped as each boy deals with the crisis while discovering the depths and limits of their own strengths and vulnerabilities. Tempers flare, lines are crossed and questions of morality blur the bonds of friendship.
The story also uses an interesting technique where the reader is provided with official reports, articles and newspapers clippings from the post-incident investigation as a means to provide crucial information throughout the story to help explain critical details while occasionally foreshadowing future events. (The author admits to “borrowing” the technique from Stephen King’s Carrie in the book’s Acknowledgements.) It’s an especially compelling method of breaking up the emotional tension throughout the book while also adding a compelling depth and richness.
Once quick disclaimer: the prospect of a mysterious and potentially deadly contagion is frightening enough but you should be warned; the author goes into excruciating and gruesome detail when describing the biological atrocities suffered by the victims. Personally, I found it to be a bit much but that may just be me. Still, if you’re at all squeamish, this may not be the book for you. It gets kinda gross at points.
Overall, The Troop is a deeply frightening and chilling read, some of which has nothing to do with the horror forced upon the young boys on the island. The ending is especially shocking and poignant. Fans of Stephen King and Dean Koontz will feel right at home on Nick Cutter’s doomed island.
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