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The Troop

The Troop - Nick Cutter A boy scout troop sets up camp on an island off the coast of Prince Edward Island. A planned retreat away from everyday life, the boys and their scout leader envision a quiet weekend where they can gain valuable survival experience while earning merit badges. Unfortunately for everyone involved, there’s nothing in the boy scouts handbook in regards to surviving a scenario seemingly plucked from a classic Stephen King novel.

I received a free copy through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

A few years ago, my friends and I would get together once or twice a week and hit up the local Blockbuster Video. We’d head straight to the new release wall and try and find the most horrific looking horror movies on the shelf, grab some snacks and head to my place for an evening of entertainment. We never took the movies seriously, in fact, we often spent the entire evening making fun of them, trying to spot errors in production or ridicule the terrible acting. It was a blast and I honestly miss those nights more than I could ever tell you.

While most of them were of the “b-movie quality”, we did manage to grab a few of the major releases. Many of them often succumbed to the same tropes of the horror genre but had access to a bigger budget. Rather than using those resources to craft a better story, they’d often just use better post-production CGI or on set special effects. However, on two occasions, we managed to get two films that really bothered me – 28 Days Later and Cabin Fever.

I’ve never really been all that OK with horror movies that feature a kind of infection or disease as their central element. As a plot, it’s fine – it’s just that there’s something about that kind of story that chills me to the bones. While Cabin Fever certainly had its elements of comedy, the story revolved around a highly contagious flesh eating disease. The same goes for 28 Days Later with a blood borne infection that turned its victims into sort of zombies (but still not zombies). It’s that losing control aspect that disturbed me, that you just had to sit and wait for the infection to take its course and turn you into something you’re not.

Nick Cutter’s The Troop managed more of a reaction out of me than both of those movies – and that’s saying something.

The Troop takes all the over-the-top gore you’d see in any of those flicks and injects it into a well written, thrilling novel. While there are certainly moments that turned my stomach (i.e. the initial discovery of the source of the sickness) as well as a scene in particular that caused me to put the book down and walk away for a few minutes (a flashback involving one of the boys and a kitten), it’s both the writing and the pace employed by Cutter that kept me coming back.

The doomed boy scouts that Cutter crafted made the horror elements that much more effective. Sure, you could write a novel where it’s nothing but a slaughter-fest from beginning to end but you’re probably not going to make a lasting impression on the reader, the true talent lies in creating characters that enhance those brutal elements to a sometimes unbearable level. Each boy scout had his own personality which meant everyone reacted differently in the face of this unknown threat. What made the novel work so well was watching the way each boy dealt with what he was facing while attempting to ensure his survival. Cutter did a great job featuring flashbacks to flesh out the characters and give the reader a reason to care about them, root for them or cheer for their demise.

It’s weird recommending a book that I had such a challenging time getting through but the journey is worth it. Nick Cutter is a pseudonym but I have no idea why you wouldn’t want your real name on a book of this caliber.

Check out my interview with Nick.