The Horror Honeys: Haunted Bookclub: Best of 2014 ~ "The Troop"

Haunted Bookclub: Best of 2014 ~ "The Troop"

A Hardcover Honey Book of the Week Review by Jocelyn

The Troop by Nick Cutter

If Stephen King and Michael Crichton had a baby and that baby is eventually a pre-teen who goes to summer camp with Chuck Palahniuk (humblebrag, didn't even have to spell check that one) where they trade battered old Robert McCammon paperbacks and gross each other out with passages from the gorier Michael Marshall Smith books until they are too scared to leave the cabin to pee, well, that baby would probably grow up to write something much like Nick Cutter's terrific debut novel, The Troop.

It's somewhat inaccurate to call this a debut – Cutter is a pseudonym, and the author has already published several books under his own name, as well as another pen name.  Still, to be fair, this is his first time writing as Nick Cutter and he knocks it right the fuck out of the park.  It took me a day and a half to read, and I seriously considered calling in sick so I could read the whole thing in one day.

Focusing on a group of Scouts on a two-night campout with their Scoutmaster on tiny Falstaff Island near Prince Edward Island, the archetypes are at play right away – there's Kent, the burly jock, son of the local police chief and all-too-confident in his own alpha-male leadership; Ephraim, the hugely energetic boy with a big heart and an even bigger hair-trigger temper; Max, Ephraim's sturdy best friend, son of the county coroner and a calm voice of reason; Newton, the uber-nerd, smart, curious, and overweight (a dangerous combo for anyone, let alone a 14-year-old boy in a group of other 14-year-old boys.....shudder), and Shelley, a flat-affect cypher with a blankness behind the eyes and a way of flying under the radar whenever he needs to.

Things kick off quickly as the boys arrive at Falstaff Island with their Scoutmaster, Tim Riggs, and affable and capable leader, and the town doctor to boot.  Who could ask for a better Scoutmaster?  Not these five, and certainly Scoutmaster Tim keeps his wits about him as the action gets rolling.  The boys have barely settled in for their first night, telling campfire stories as Tim unpacks the supplies (including a good bottle of Scotch – always be prepared – but no cell phones, that wouldn't be Scouting!).  

A stranger approaches, a time-tested start to any good adventure yarn, but there's something… off… about this man as he stumbles towards the cabin.  He's thinner than anybody Tim has ever seen, with knobs for knees, and skin stretched “thin as crepe paper over his skull.”  The man is searching for food, and anything will do, as Tim realizes when he spies green matter oozing out of the man's mouth as if he had been eating algae.  When Tim tries to give the man a cursory exam, he feels something stirring under the man's skin, a movement of sorts in his stomach that feels unlike anything Tim has seen in his years of general practice, something that seems to almost be reacting in a deliberate way to Tim's touch.  It seems like an optimal time to break out the Glenlivet, and Tim does just that.

The author... "Nick Cutter"
Tim wisely isolates the boys outside the cabin while he remains inside and attempts to help the man.  Needless to say, things don't go as planned (and they never seem to go as planned in our Hardcover Honey reads, do they now?) and the man, despite Tim's attempts, is beyond saving, as we learn when Tim makes an incision in the man's skin and is greeted by a FUCKING PARASITIC BUNDLE OF WHITE WORMS that instantly abandon their victim and start hunting for a new one.  Scoutmaster Tim is infected in short order, and the Scouts, spearheaded by Kent, lock him in the closet for his own good (and theirs).  Kent celebrates his Lord of the Flies style leadership with a swig of Scoutmaster Tim's Scotch… and I think you can see where this is going, right?  As the infection spreads, a storm approaches, and the boys form rapidly shifting alliances as they try find food – and try to avoid becoming the next victim.  

Interspersed with the Scouts chapters are other chapters in a less narrative style, featuring experiment notes, court proceedings, newspaper articles, and the like – all of which are woven together to give us, the reader, information the poor Scouts of Troop 52 are unaware of.  A gathering sense of dread lay over me the whole time I was reading this taut thriller.  I even read it during my lunch break, gagging a little around my veggie patty at some of the more colorful descriptions.

What this book did best was remind me of what it feels like to be a kid – one paragraph in particular captured this feeling perfectly, the flexibility of a child's mind as opposed to being an adult… “Adults didn't believe in old wives' tales.  You didn't see adults stepping over sidewalk cracks out of the fear that they might somehow, some way, break their mothers' backs.  They didn't wish on stars: not with the squinty-eyed fierceness of kids, anyway.  You'll never find an adult who believes that saying “Bloody Mary” three times in front of a mirror in a dark room will summon a dark, blood-hungry entity.”  Truer words were never spoken.  

I have heard it said before that horror fans are like kids, in that they seem to feel things more deeply.  I think that's probably true.  I've also heard it said that no horror writer could capture that feeling of being a kid, and of being a scared kid, better than Stephen King.  After reading The Troop, I think Nick Cutter can.  I can't wait for this author's next work and I am SUPER-PYSCHED to host him on our Horror Honeys podcast in the (hopefully) very near future.

Hardcover Honey Rating - Five out of five parasitic worms for this one!