Saturday, January 20, 2018

Book Reviews: The Troop

The Troop
by Nick Cutter
Stephen King wrote that this book was old school horror that scared the hell out of him. Based on that blurb and other people's ravings about the book I decided to give it a read. Although this is not a new book it is still the best book I've read this year. It's the best book I've read in a while actually. After I finished it I looked up some more information about the writer. I was pleased to confirm my suspicion that Cutter (this is a pen name) is a David Cronenberg fan.While reading this book I couldn't help but think back to Cronenberg films such as They Came From Within or The Fly. The Troop is body horror at its finest. I'm interested in reading other works by the author now. 

It stinks to be sick. For most ailments or infections your body's immune system can marshal some pretty effective defenses to isolate and/or kill anything in your body that is not you. Your body is even smart enough to recognize what it kills and develop immunity to new versions of what it killed and ejected. Occasionally however you run across some creatures, bacteria or viruses that aren't so easily dismissed. Some of these things might even become permanent residents of your particular universe. No power on earth can get rid of them. You have no choice but to deal with them.

Canadian Scoutmaster Tim Riggs and his five teen Boy Scouts are on a wilderness camping trip to a small deserted island, one that will allow Riggs' charges a chance to put their outdoors skills to the test and of course gain more scouting patches. Some of the boys are more enthusiastic about this trip than others. All of them are right around the age where they are becoming more interested in girls than in running around the woods tying knots or identifying edible types of fungus. They are also around the age where they're starting to test how far they can challenge adult authority. 

Riggs is aware of all that but hardly bothered by it. He's a pretty easy going fellow who knows when to pull the adult authority card and when to let the boys work independently and figure things out on their own. Riggs is also a doctor, an internist. He didn't have the patience, skill or for that matter fingers, for surgery. Troop 52 includes:

Kent-a popular jock who is large for his age and not above some bullying. Son of the local police chief and wannabe leader.
Ephraim-popular at school despite his horrible temper-probably the only boy not afraid to mix it up with Kent. Ephraim's father is imprisoned.
Max-Ephraim's best friend and the coroner's son. Max and Ephraim finish each other's sentences and never fight each other.
Newton-the smartest of the group and the fattest. Often the butt of jokes that can sometimes get mean-spirited. Not a fighter in any sense of the word.
Shelley-a moody outcast with some strange proclivities. No one really likes to have Shelley around. But they like it even less if they don't know where he is.

On the first night of the troop's trip to Falstaff Island a sick man who is almost skeletal and very hungry shows up and joins them. As a doctor, Riggs feels compelled to try to assist the man. That proves to be an unwise move. Cutter skillfully mixes up the pov by jumping back and forth in time and using letters, official medical and political documents, newspaper articles, and diaries to slowly pull the covers back on what's happening. I say skillfully because like every good storyteller Cutter leaves the reader in suspense for as long as possible. This is really powerful intense stuff with descriptions that will make a lot of readers squirm in their seats, question that new spot on their hip or wonder if that cough has lasted longer than it should. There's also an obvious Lord of the Flies influence. None of the visceral, pulpy stuff would work if Cutter hadn't carefully taken the time to create realistic flawed and heroic characters that the reader cares about. This isn't cookie cutter gore. Equally, it isn't for people who are faint-hearted. Those of you who don't like horror shouldn't read this but if you're a fan of, as mentioned, Cronenberg, or the Alien franchise, you really should read this book!!!!
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