Friday, 7 February 2014

'The Troop' - Nick Cutter (Gallery Books)

If you know me outside this blog (hello!) then you will know that I have a pretty healthy appetite for food, albeit all the wrong kinds of food and far more of it then I should really be eating. This week has seen that appetite vanish though; partly because I've caught a bug off Hope (apparently it's funny to cough all over Daddy when you're not feeling well...) and also because I've spent the last couple of days reading Nick Cutter's debut 'The Troop', a book that has actually put me off eating. I didn't think anything could do that... You'll see why when you read 'The Troop' and you really should read it if you like a taut tale of terror that absolutely refuses to be put down. That's what we're talking about here. I couldn't stop reading until I was done and consider my loss of appetite a small price to pay.

Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. The boys are a tight-knit crew. There’s Kent, one of the most popular kids in school; Ephraim and Max, also well-liked and easy-going; then there’s Newt the nerd and Shelley the odd duck. For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there—which makes Scoutmaster Tim’s job a little easier. But for some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked . . .

It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.

And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected . . . or one another.

‘The Troop’ is a relentless read, in terms of how it hooks the reader as well as the intensity of the horror that it visits on its cast of characters. No-one makes it to the end of the book unscathed and I’d have to say that the luckiest characters are the ones who are dead by the time the book draws to a close (and what a creepy ending it is, a nice way to keep you thinking long after you’ve stopped reading).
This is a book that shows us all too clearly that evil is pretty much everywhere, ready to be unleashed at a moment’s stupidity, plain ignorance or even more chillingly, with the full knowledge of what will occur. Whether it’s the scouts turning on their troop leader, the obsessive nature of Dr Edgerton in his experiments (regardless of any human cost) or implied big business concerns causing the military to take no corrective action whatsoever; Cutter shows his reader the dark side of human nature and the consequences of this, consequences that actually overshadow the bioengineered threat at times.

And Cutter pulls no punches at all with those consequences, resulting in a dark and horrifying tale the likes of which I haven’t read since… erm… I can’t remember the last time I read something so dark and horrifying. Childhood is wrenched away from the scouts and replaced with the simple desire to stay alive, both in the face of what invades the island and in the face of each other. The danger brings out the best in some characters but the worst in one character in particular who sees it as a chance to indulge in some seriously messed up behaviour. ‘Children can be so cruel’ is a statement that is taken to limits here that you would not believe and makes for scenes that will have you squirming in your seat.

Flashbacks to earlier childhood moments really flesh out the characters but sometimes this happens at the expense of the flow of the plot, slowing things right down when they’ve only just built up a nice head of speed. When things are allowed to flow uninterrupted though, ‘The Troop’ is a joy to behold with Cutter firmly in control of his plot and making sure that everything happens at the most terrifying moment.

This has been a particularly hard review to write coherently as, being completely honest here, I’m still living out what happened to Kent, Max, Ephraim, Newt and Shelley. ‘The Troop’ is a dark and vicious tale that made me feel physically sick at times but still unable to take my eyes off the page and the story unfolding. That’s the best kind of horror fiction, as far as I’m concerned, and I really hope that it isn’t too long before Nick Cutter tries his hand at it again. Highly recommended if you’re into horror fiction, perhaps not so highly recommended if you’ve eaten a meal and want to keep it down… ;o)

(I've been reading the US edition of 'The Troop', Headline will be publishing it in the UK and in the next couple of weeks I think)


  1. I liked this one, it was creepy as hell. I think my favorite part was how the author was able to achieve this by going beyond simply describing the gorier bits (and yeah, there were plenty of them). It's tough to create an atmosphere of dread for a horror novel and I think few writers actually manage this effectively, but I think Cutter did nicely.

    I wish I had read at least some reviews before tackling this book when I did though, FYI I did do the mistake of eating a meal before picking it up...

  2. It is properly creepy isn't it? Couldn't get the book out of my head for at least a couple of days after finishing it. I really hope Cutter has a few more like this in him.