When your press materials lead with a quote from Stephen King calling your book "old school horror at its best," you’d better be confident that the book in question does not fall short.
The Troop does not fall short.
The book begins with a classic horror setup: the isolation of a group of likable, relatable people, followed by the introduction of a mysterious and deadly force. The group in question is a small Scout troop, a seemingly tight-knit squad of five teenage boys and their scoutmaster, Tim, spending their annual wilderness weekend on tiny Falstaff Island. The force comes in the form of an emaciated man who stumbles into their cabin on their first night with death literally eating its way through his body. What follows is a savage and thorough breakdown of this tiny community, as kids who are accustomed to having adults come to the rescue quickly discover that they are very much on their own.
King's influence —not to mention that of authors like Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee — is woven tightly into the book's DNA. Author Nick Cutter (the pen name of a Canadian writer who has collected numerous literary awards under his actual name) takes the go-for-broke mentality of a splatterpunk and seasons it with a wordsmith's eloquence. There are some beautiful passages in The Troop, many of them describing truly terrible things — a delicate balance that is difficult to achieve.
Cutter doesn't shy away from the graphic aspects of the story, but his mission isn't solely to gross readers out. Watching the speed and totality of how the group crumbles and decays is even more frightening than the literal crumbling and decaying of the victims' flesh. There's a heart-wrenching scene near the end that involves two boys and a sea turtle, and it's at this point of the book where we the readers realize, at the same time the characters do, that they may not make it out alive. It's raw and real and difficult to get through, and things absolutely do not lighten up from there.
The Troop is crisply paced, pushing events on the island forward even as it fills in the gaps with "excerpts" from interviews, news articles and the like (a method lifted directly from King's debut novel Carrie). While the premise revisits familiar waters, Cutter's execution is nearly flawless. It's the right combination of pure storytelling, a mastery of language, and the guts to push the limits to their extremes. It's the kind of book that gets under your skin and refuses to go away. Highly recommended.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.