This is something I murmur to myself often. I must have asked myself this question at least ten times in the last two weeks, and it had nothing to do with reading a book. But I also don’t know what I was thinking when I promised myself I would read and review several top rated horror novels this month.
This week’s review is focused on Nick Cutter’s The Troop. It sits in the top five of multiple lists as one of the best horror novels in the last few years and received a glowing review from the master – Stephen King. I had to read it.
And that’s the problem. I had to read it.
I would much rather write strictly about books I love, couldn’t put down, made me hold my breath, or had me on the edge of my seat, but a promise is a promise. The Troop did none of these things. What it did do was make me cringe and not in a good way. Stick with me though.
You can read in any description or review of the book to learn that a biological threat escapes from a controlled environment, and a Troop consisting of a Scout Master and five young boys (tweens to teens) are caught in a mess in which they can’t get out. The scouts set up camp on an uninhabited island off the coast of Prince Edward Island and on their first night, a man shows up who is very sick – and very hungry.
What follows is a mix of Lord of the Flies (William Golding), Stand by Me (Stephen King), and The Ruins (Scott Smith). I’m not the first to make these comparisons. The problem is all three of these books are scarier in their first five chapters than The Troop is in its entirety. It inspires me to ask Stephen King: "What the hell were YOU thinking?"
Without giving away too much detail of what does happens, I did state earlier I cringed a lot and not in a good way. There were pages I skipped because it was too much for me. (Me! Who lives for this!) It was too violent toward animals that could not defend themselves, and I walked away from these sections thinking it was nothing more than gratuitous “grossness” the story did not need.
It felt like the author was attention-grabbing in order to create a buzz, but unfortunately it left me feeling like I had met these characters before and each and every one of their actions were predictable.
To give credit where it’s due, Mr. Cutter is a brilliant writer. There are passages I read multiple times simply to marvel at his word choice, his environmental descriptions, and his grammar is flawless. Cutter does take a page from Stephen King in that throughout the novel, we learn what is happening off the island through interview and trial excerpts at the same time the boys are stranded. Without these excerpts the whole premise would be lost.
The story is also based in reality to some extent. This could actually happen and hey – you never know – it may be happening somewhere right this very moment. For me this is usually the basis of the best type of horror novel. Unfortunately I wasn’t scared at any point reading this book.
If you are into biological warfare, gratuitous torture without basis, and observing the strengths, weakness, and changes young boys can go through when placed in a deadly situation, then by all means, this book is for you. However if you’re looking for a good scare – skip this one.