It is a cool October night on Falstaff Island, about nine miles off of Prince Edward Island, and Scoutmaster Tim Riggs is enjoying a sip of scotch. He can hear his five 14-year-old scouts talking and laughing in the next room, most likely telling ghost stories before they fall asleep. All six are completely unaware of the horrifying turn their annual camping trip is about to take.
The familiar comfort of their night is interrupted by the sound of a motorboat approaching the island. The boat’s sole passenger is a grotesquely gaunt, obviously very ill man who’s so frantic with voracious hunger that he’ll eat anything, even a moth-eaten chesterfield sofa. Tim, a small-town doctor, at first tries to help the man—and keep him away from the naturally curious boys. Tim soon discovers, however, that the stranger is infected with something more dangerous, deadly and contagious than he could have ever imagined. And so begins the terrifying thrill ride that is Nick Cutter’s The Troop.
Cutter’s decision to alternate perspectives between chapters is a wise one. Not only does it allow readers to get to know each character (and their backstories), but it also keeps us guessing as to who—if anyone—is going to make it through the ordeal. They’re a ragtag but close-knit group: Kent, the arrogant jock, most popular guy in school; Ephraim “Eff,” the troubled, anger-prone youth; Eff’s best friend, Max, earnest and loyal; Newton, overweight and socially awkward; and Shelley, a loner with some unsavory interests.
Reminiscent of Scott Smith’s The Ruins and with shades of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Stephen King’s “The Body” (on which the film Stand by Me was based), The Troop is brutally visceral, pulling readers right into the action, tapping into our most primal fears: isolation, hunger, survival. Cutter is at his best when describing the ooey-gooeyness of infection—the stench, the sounds, the texture—and in articulating the abject and utter terror of the characters unlucky enough to witness, or experience, these ooey-gooey happenings. The book isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re intrigued by what you’ve read so far, then chances are you’ll enjoy succumbing to the thrills of this highly entertaining page-turner.