Yesterday I reviewed the brilliant Bird Box by Josh Malerman. Well, today’s review makes for an interesting pairing because Nick Cutter’s The Troop has an equal sense of dread and claustrophobia but is on the exact opposite end of the gore spectrum. [Hint-- look at that red cover] I loved both, but I appreciate that for some library patrons this will matter.
Set on an isolated, uninhabited island a few miles of the mainland of the equally isolated Prince Edward Island, Canada, a troop of boy scouts and their leader have their survival excursion interrupted by the appearance of a stranger who is completely consumed both physically and mentally by hunger. Once “the Hungry Man” enters their world, their fight to survive-- the disease he carries, each other, and those trying to contain the biological incident-- really begins. Featuring a fluidly shifting narration and monsters both of this world and unearthly, the anxiety of The Troop never stops, the panic keeps intensifying, and the gore is bountiful. But there is more than just visceral horror at work here; there is also the desperation of knowing you are trapped, contagious, and doomed.
The story begins with a narration by “The Hungry Man” himself. We then switch to the island where we see things unfold through the eyes of the troop leader and then the boys themselves. In fact this is where the story telling goes from good to GREAT. The boys, their personalities, their places in the troop pecking order, and their backgrounds all come to influence how they manage this horrific situation, how they choose to take charge, and how they treat one and other.
As the anxiety builds and the situation goes from bad to worse to unimaginably horrific, the pov switches become key.
There is also a great side plot here involving the evil scientist who has created the vector which created The Hungry Man. This is a 100% fatal disease that spreads person to person and violently consumes its victim. As readers we are allowed to follow the trial that takes place in the aftermath of the horror that happens on the island. The result is a winning horror combination of a supernatural and human evil that keep the chills and thrills rolling through this extremely fast paced story.
Besides the gore as a limiter, I also need to mention that there are many child characters here, and this story has a high body count. I am sorry to provide a bit of that spoiler, but I think just saying that previous sentence to readers who are unsure if they would like to read this novel is a good idea.
This is pulp horror at it’s best. It is a throwback to the best of the 1980s but with a 21st Century sensibility. [Read during this time of Ebola at your own risk though.]
As a final aside, it is important to note that Nick Cutter is the pseudonym used by acclaimed, Canadian, literary fiction writer Craig Davidson for his horror novels.
Three Words That Describe This Book: gory, intense sense of dread, isolated setting
Readalikes: Obviously Lord of the Flies is in play here. Many readers will see a connection and might want to revisit the classic Golding novel.
The Ruins by Scott Smith and Castaways by Brian Keene are two of my all time favorites. Both share the isolated setting and high gore level. Click on the titles for more details. Hint/small spoiler, all three books share a very high body count, and while The Troop comes close, The Ruins is still the winner in that category.
Two other fantastic horror novelists who go heavy on the gore but don’t sacrifice the storytelling in its wake are Richard Laymon and Jack Ketchum. Laymon in particular was a master of the extremely isolated setting. Cutter has obviously read them and learned from their expertise.