If the hairs on the back of your tongue haven’t been properly stood on end for a while, then it is your civic duty to read THE TROOP. The name “Nick Cutter,” put forward as the author of this terrifying piece, is a pseudonym for “an acclaimed author of novels and short stories.” I was initially certain that it was someone who Cutter acknowledges at the end of the novel, and who has contributed a fine and complimentary blurb as well. Regardless of who wrote the book, it is an edge-of-your-seat, one-sit read with a fright factor of 10 and a gross-out factor of 11, though not gratuitously so. More on that in a moment.
"THE TROOP is simply great stuff. The horror genre never really went away, but it’s nice...to see a potential resurgence of its once massive literary popularity."
The troop of the title is five boy scouts and their scoutmaster who are making an annual overnight camping sojourn to a local island. It’s perfect, given that it’s isolated with few creature comforts and is easily accessible by boat should something go wrong. The scoutmaster, Tim Riggs, is a good guy, a family practice physician who knows his limitations and has some limited insight into his charges, each of whom is, shall we say, somewhat differently talented. Cutter paints with a broad brush here in defining each of the boys --- the natural leader; the introvert; the quiet but intelligent lad; the solid, average kid; and, oh yeah, the freaking psychopath --- whose varied abilities rub easily and otherwise against each other over the course of the book.
What happens within hours of the troop landing on the island isn’t covered in the Boy Scout Manual. A man obviously in some distress arrives by boat near their campsite. Dr. Tim attempts to come to his assistance, but the stranger, who physically looks like a war refugee, is beyond help. He is hungry, and voraciously so. It is here that the gross-out factor begins to kick in. The stranger proceeds to devour everything in sight (I assure you, he’s worse than your brother-in-law on an overnight calorie bender), and I mean everything. There is a reason for this, which is gradually made clear over the course of the story. Cutter goes over the top in his description of some everyday bodily functions, but they are ones that we never think about, even as they occur. It’s not horror for horror’s sake; everything that Cutter describes has a reason for being there, which doesn’t make it any easier to take.
Of course, I loved every word of it, even as Cutter managed to touch on both of my phobias (arachnophobia and claustrophobia) and a whole bunch of other ones. I won’t go into detail as to what occurs, but there are any number of things you won’t be able to eat, look at, or participate in without thinking of this book. These would include, to name but a few: fishing, gardening, boats, spelunking, pasta and Mexican diet clinics. Oh, and turtles. Yes, bad things happen to the troop, so bad in fact that the military surrounds the island and won’t let anyone off, at least until it is much too late. And even after it’s over, it’s not really over. For me, the big shock is what occurs near the end.
THE TROOP is simply great stuff. The horror genre never really went away, but it’s nice (maybe “nice” isn’t quite the right word) to see a potential resurgence of its once massive literary popularity. If you haven’t had a tremendous scare for a while, read this book. And keep that bottle of hand sanitizer at the ready.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 28, 2014