As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media—books, comics, movies, and television—to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way to Halloween.
During the last couple years, I’ve had people recommend that I check out the writing of Nick Cutter (the horror-based pen name/persona of Canadian author Craig Davidson). When I finally got around to reading his underwater horror The Deep, however, it made me wonder if my friends thought something was wrong with me. The book was exceptionally well written, but it also forced me to suppress my gag reflex a few times. Cutter’s knack for descriptive prose transferred a little too well when the blood and guts started to spill.
Still, there was more than enough there to make me want to give The Troop a shot–and am I ever glad I did. While the gross out stuff was there, the story itself was stunningly well developed and terrifying.
A Boy Scout master takes five of his charges out for their annual camping trip on Falstaff Island. During their first night there, a man who (unbeknownst to them) recently escaped a government facility shows up looking like death warmed up. When they attempt to help him, the troops discover that he is suffering from a horridly bizarre parasitic infection. As you might imagine, this leads to very bad things happening.
Pretty basic setup, right?
Well, what could have been yet another infection/survival story is kicked up several notches thanks to Cutter’s excellent character work. Each one reacts in a wholly unique way to what develops into a close quarters fight for survival. Cutter also manages to perfectly balance everyone’s fear of dying along with a young teenager’s almost equally great desire to seem strong in front of their friends.
Watching this group of kids struggle through the worst night imaginable is absolutely gut wrenching. Friendships are strained, social hierarchies are challenged, and power struggles ensue. It’s like Lord of the Flies with a clock ticking down toward an evitable and gruesome end. To make matters even worse (and better for the reader), one of the kids is a stone cold sociopath. Like others of his ilk, the boy wears a ‘human mask’ around everyone else, which the current crisis allows him to shed and unleash his darkest desires.
Interspersed throughout the harrowing narrative are news clippings, trial transcripts, and scientific papers about the aftermath of the event on Falstaff Island. Despite giving the reader such a large amount of foresight, Cutter somehow manages to keep the ultimate fate of the characters a secret until the book’s bone chilling climax. No joke—I went full obnoxious-person-in-the-movie-theater and started yelling at the book/surviving characters to run. (Don’t judge me).
What Doesn’t Work
The Troop gives us one of the most solid and haunting endings you could ask for. Then it adds a small coda that makes you really wish we could explore things just one step further.
Is It Good?
Stories about small groups of people trying to survive—especially at the expense of each other—always carry the potential for good drama. The fact that most of the characters in The Troop are kids makes it even more gripping and scary. The boys process everything through a lens untainted by decades of jaded observation. Everything is new and immediate, making the horrors they face even more clearly defined.
Make sure you read this one on a weekend. As good as it is, you’re also going to lose some sleep.