The Troop

By Nick Cutter
Published on February 25th 2014
Published by Gallery Books
Source: Netgalley
Boy Scouts live by the motto “Be Prepared.” However, nothing can prepare this group of young boys and their scoutmaster for what they encounter on a small, deserted island, as they settle down for a weekend of campfires, merit badges, and survival lessons.

Everything changes when a haggard stranger in tattered clothing appears out of nowhere and collapses on the campers’ doorstep. Before the night is through, this stranger will end up infecting one of the troop’s own with a bioengineered horror that’s straight out of their worst nightmares. Now stranded on the island with no communication to the outside world, the troop learns to battle much more than the elements, as they are pitted against something nature never intended…and eventually each other.
What starts out as a simple camping trip for a small group of boys devolves into an unstoppable nightmare whenever a man carrying a highly contagious illness steps onto the island.  Instead of just roughing it in the woods for merit badges, the boys are fighting for survival against something that can't be stopped.

The Troop is one creepy, messed up book.  If I had to list the top five creepiest gross-out books I've ever read, this one would be in there.  I'm not saying it's a bad book -- it was enjoyable, if squirm-inducing -- but you definitely need to be in the right mood for this sort of horror story.  Also, you probably won't want to eat, or go outside, or touch anything at all, ever again, after reading this one.

I'd put this book in a category (which I may have just made up) of literary horror.  Even though the characters are kind of standard -- the nerd, the bully, the one with lots of issues, etc. -- there's some depth to the writing, especially when it comes to describing the illness and the psychological toll it takes on the boys.  Their inner narration doesn't always seem to ring true for the thoughts of 14/15-year olds, but there are just so many deliciously creepy passages that I can't complain much.

My favorite aspect of the book is the short interludes inserted between some chapters, made up of "excerpts" from articles, trial testimony, journal entries, etc., that help explain a bit more of the story.  I am a sucker for that sort of content in any book, as I love the possibilities that are opened up by that sort of storytelling.  And to be honest, the story of the scout troop was interesting but somewhat predictable, but I would absolutely read a book fleshing out the rest of the story.

This book is absolutely not for the faint of heart.  It is incredibly gory and has a large medical/bodily horror aspect to it, including surgical scenes and self-mutilation.  There are many scenes of intentional cruelty to animals, with some very extended and gruesome scenes depicting medical experimentation on animals.  One of the boys in the story is also basically a sociopath and there are many sequences describing him killing insects and animals for pleasure, as well as violent acts against other humans.  I can't emphasize enough that there were so many parts of this book that gave me the creeps. I am not typically a squeamish reader but definitely had to take breaks away from this book during some of the more intense/graphic scenes.

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