The Troop


“If you call the tune, you also have to pay the piper when he begs his due.”

Sometimes a cover makes a difference. In this case I saw two things that caught my attention: “Stephen King” and “a novel of terror”. If you’re going to write a horror novel, there’s no one better to blurb your book than Stephen King. Being a fan of King, I was willing to give The Troop by Nick Cutter a chance. I was not disappointed. Not only does Cutter write a good story, his craft is on par with King. The sensory descriptions in the novel create vivid visuals, bringing the story fully to life. It’s filled with intimately familiar characters who each bring forth a different aspect of the story. There are layers to the book, ideas and themes hinted at but not outright mentioned. And then there’s the monster.

“…this was the blackness that must exist at the bottom of the seaa blackness prowled by sightless things whose skin was so pale and gelatinous you could see the inner workings of their bodies. Things with nightmare anatomies that would evoke cries of horror were they ever glimpsed in the sunlight: blind eyes bulging atop skinny stalks, rubbery mouths big enough to swallow a Hyundai, rows of tiny needlelike teeth. Such creatures could only survive in the deeps…”

The story takes place on Falstaff Island, situated north of Prince Edward Island off on the far eastern coast of Canada. There a troop of Boy Scouts are spending the weekend with their Scoutmaster. They are alone on the island. Just a group of five teenage boys, Scoutmaster Tim, and the beauty of nature. It’s a peaceful retreat until a stranger shows up on the beach. A stranger who carries a dark secret. After that, everything goes wrong.

“Worms are much more interesting. Worms are indiscriminate, you see. They will eat anything from a hippopotamus to an aphid. They are the ultimate piggybackers: invite one inside and it’s there for good. They’re nightmare houseguests: once they’re in, you’ll never get rid of them. They’re one of the oldest species on earth. Right after the crust cooled there were worms swimming in the primordial soup. The first creature to flop out of a tide pool onto land had a worm inside of it, I guarantee you…They say cockroaches will be the last things left on earth after a nuclear holocaust. Don’t believe it. The last thing on earth will be a worm in the guts of those cockroaches, sucking them dry.”

At the heart of this story is a question. What’s more monstrous: a monster or the monster that lies within us all? Through the chilling events in The Troop, that question is explored from multiple angles by the complex cast of characters. There’s the stranger who has a monster inside of him. It’s a creature without remorse, driven to feed and kill, but worst of all, resilient and resourceful. Unlike most monsters, the author uses one that’s very easy to relate to. The creature is something most people have first hand knowledge of. It’s something we can encounter in real life. The exception is this one has been genetically modified, a very real possibility in the world we live in. In this way, the monster in this book is somewhat like the shark in Jaws. It’s not a fanciful werewolf or alien from outer space. This monster is grounded in reality. But it’s not the only monster in the book.

“People do the worst things to each other…”

The only thing worse than a real life creature turned into a monster is a human who is a monster. Sociopaths and psychos are all too real. They live among us and blend in. You can’t spot them until it’s too late. That concept is fully utilized for some of the characters in this book. There’s the scientist who intentionally created the monster. There’s the people in power who funded the project. Then there’s the child on the island who’s not like the other boys. He’s a bit anti-social. Quiet. Reserved. He doesn’t feel emotions like normal people. For fun, he tortures insects and animals. With a real monster roaming the island, the boys come to learn that there are other threats that are just as deadly and terrifying.

“He’d expected so much more. Some kind of revelation. A sign of the gears that meshed behind the serene fabric of this worlda glimpse of its seething madness. But no. In the end he’d seen only mocking resignationand, finally, bliss.”

Built around that aspect of monsters is adolescence. The main characters in this story are five teenage boys. They’re at that stage that lingers between childhood and young adulthood. Life is part play but also responsibility. Among them is the jock, the risk taker, the nerd, the strange one, and the normal kid. The jock relies on strength to assert his authority, his position challenged only by the risk taker who lives dangerously and struggles with a fiery temper. The nerd bears the brunt of their teasing, but is an accepted part of their group, and the most resourceful when solving problems. The strange one tags along and is left alone. An entity they don’t dare challenge for reasons they don’t quite understand. The normal kid rounds out the dynamic of the group, completing the representation of youth. All of their skills and flaws shape the direction of the story. From leadership conflicts to acts of survival, the best and worst of humanity is illustrated.

By incorporating all of these various themes and aspects, The Troop tells a story that’s intellectually provocative and yet rich in escapism. The skillful use of detail and fully fleshed out characters makes it easy to escape into the events of the book. The layering of ideas, however, gives the events a realistic value. It raises questions and concerns that we as a society have yet to fully answer. How do we deal with the monsters among us? How can we prevent the creation of new monsters brought about by the wonders of science? But most concerning of all, how do we acknowledge our own monstrous traits? In a story that combines Stand By Me with The Ruins and with a touch of Lord of the Flies, The Troop is an engrossing tale of adolescence, horror and humanity. I give it a five out of five metal bikinis. If you like horror and Stephen King books, this one should go on your must read list.

Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

For more information on The Troop including excerpts, retailer links and author info, you can check out Simon & Schuster’s official product page.

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