The Troop by Nick Cutter (Gallery, Feb.2014)-There’s a certain highly skilled Canadian author writing under the name “Nick Cutter” and it’s a rather appropriate name, given that “Nick’s” new book, The Troop, does involve a fair amount of cutting, and I don’t mean the kind involved in a normal Boy Scout outing. Ok, so, we’ll take it from the top. A troop of boys, led by their Scoutmaster, Tim Riggs (a doctor, by the way), is on tiny Falstaff Island for a few days of hiking, camping, and general Boy Scout fun. The problem is, a stranger has just arrived on the beach, and it’s immediately clear to Tim that something is very, very wrong. Actually, “wrong” is kind of an understatement. Something is living inside of the stranger, and it’s just dying to get out and spread its rather unique form of destruction. Luckily, for the stranger, Tim and his troop of five boys are the perfect breeding ground for what he carries, and he’s just dying to meet them (sorry, couldn’t help it.)
At first, Tim tries to help the man, but soon realizes that he’s wayyy beyond help. Then Tim starts feeling poorly. Then all hell pretty much starts breading loose as the boys realize that something very terrible is happening on their little island. But hey, it’ll be ok, right? Because their parents will come for them, right? Right?? It’s soon pretty evident that help isn’t coming soon, and there’s a reason for that. The island has been quarantined. Nothing in, nothing out. Doesn’t bode well for our boys, does it.
The Troop is a monster book, but this monster is a bioengineered horror that just won’t stop. As readers, we know this, because the narrative switches back and forth between the boys’ fight to survive, and case notes and newspaper articles about the horrid thing that was created in a lab and got loose via Patient Zero (the stranger). I really, realllly don’t want to get into detail about the “things” because it’s really fun, really creative, and really, really gross. What’s even scarier is that this thing was created to be used as a diet supplement, among other things (this may give you some idea of what their dealing with). Sure, you’ll lose weight. And keep losing it…you get the idea. The hunger is unstoppable. No, this isn’t a zombie book, in case you wondered. What it is, is a rather astute psychological look at what happens when you plop five young teen boys with wildly diverse personalities onto an island and have them fend for themselves. Yep, of course that’s shades of Lord of the Flies, but this is Lord of the Flies with an unspeakable twist. The “monster” is horrendous, but really, this is a great look at humankind’s capacity for cruelty and horror, which of course makes the situation that much more untenable. It also doesn’t help that one of the boys has been waiting forever to let his real personality show, and this is the perfect time to do this (this kid gets creepier than the monster at times, and that’s no easy feat.) Some sly commentary on society’s desire for a quick fix, and Cutter’s disturbingly great talent for descriptives make this a terrifying, utterly fantastic read. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Nothing gratuitous, but some passages get pretty rough. These passages serve a distinctive purpose, though. Some horrors need to be exposed to the light of day. Nick Cutter has a sick, twisted imagination, but I like that about him, and his first foray into flat-out horror is a must read for those that like their scares smart and laced with some razor sharp social observations. If you’re familiar with “Cutter’s” other work, you know the man can write, but I bet you didn’t know he could pull this off. He can, he does, and I can’t wait for the next book.