First published back in February of 2014, ‘The Troop’ formed the tenth novel by Canadian author Craig Davidson (under the pseudonym of Nick Cutter).
He was so very very hungry. Thirty-five-year-old Thomas Padgett was on the run, but oh how he had to eat…and keep on eating. He knew he had something inside of him, but his instincts still told him to get away. To keep running. To find somewhere where he could hide. And the tiny jut of rock that formed Falstaff Island, located eleven miles off the northern coast of Prince Edward Island, seemed just the place.
But Padgett wasn’t the only one on Falstaff Island that night. Forty-two-year-old Scoutmaster Tim Riggs had brought his scout troop to the island for three days of survival training. Troop Fifty-Two, the Eagle Scout Troop, which consisted of five fourteen-year-old boys all of which were under his charge. Five boys he had known since they were just five. Five boys he would look after and protect at all costs.
But when Padgett appears from out of nowhere, looking desperately malnourished and suffering from some critical illness, Riggs feels torn between his duty to his scout troop and his obligation as Prince Edward’s only medical practitioner.
Compromising, Riggs brings the severely ill man into the cabin where they are staying; purposefully segregating the man from his young troop. However, the man seems ferociously hungry. Consuming whatever he can, the arrival of this near-crazed newcomer is deeply worrying for Riggs. The horrifically emaciated figure seems sick in a way he has never seen before. A sickness that could well prove to be contagious. But he has to do what he could for him.
And then, in a moment of unprovoked violence, the man destroys the cabin’s radio. The only form of communication Riggs and his Scout Troop has with the mainland. Furthermore, the boat they have moored-up on the island’s shore isn’t starting. The realisation that they’re stuck on the island for the foreseeable future doesn’t take long to set in. But regardless of this, first Riggs must at least try to help his dying patient.
With whatever equipment he can gather from inside the cabin, Riggs attempts to perform surgery on the man’s swollen stomach to release the obvious pressure that is mounting in there. But what comes out from the small incision is something beyond Riggs’ worst nightmares. What slithers and squirms out from the dying man’s gut is beyond anything that Riggs thought possible.
And now Riggs thinks he might have become infected by whatever it was that was in the man. He’s beginning to feel strange. He’s beginning to feel deeply unwell. He’s beginning to feel hungry…
What we have here is one of those horror novels that consumes the reader within minutes of embarking upon its terrifying plot; one that after the final page has been turned leaves a lasting mark on the reader. It’s one of those utterly engrossing tales that delivers such an absolutely nightmarish storyline, that it creeps under your skin for its entire duration – like a worm burrowing deeper and deeper under the tender surface of your skin.
From early on the novel reads like a cross between William Golding’s ‘Lord Of The Flies’ (1954) and Richard Laymon’s ‘Flesh’ (1987) - with a very Stephen King-esque storytelling quality to it. Throw in some Adam Baker style scenes of flesh corruption ala ‘Outpost’ (2011) with some seriously squirm-inducing scenes of visceral gore, and you’ve got a winning combination for an absolute beast of a horror novel.
The driving horror behind the plot doesn’t so much as creep into the tale as it does meet the reader head-on – with the first handful of chapters getting the tale right into the thick of the developing dilemma whilst simultaneously raising all hell around our small troop of fourteen-year-old scouts.
The characters are all very much like something Stephen King would pen. In a nutshell Cutter (aka Craig Davidson) has isolated one adult (the down-to-earth-and-thoroughly-responsible Scoutmaster Tim Riggs) on an island with the five fourteen-year-old boys he’s responsible for. Of these boys you have Kent Jenks (a stereotypical jock with more brawn than brains), Ephraim Elliot (a young lad brimming with barely suppressed anger at the world), Max Kirkwood (pretty much a run-of-the-mill young lad who enjoys the companionship of his friends), Newton Thornton (a natural geek carrying more than a few extra pounds of weight) and Shelley Longpre (a worrying boy who seemed void of all human emotions). Indeed, in this well-selected collection of characters, Cutter has created a group rich with potential for character-to-reader engagement.
Once the plot has been established and the horror revealed for all to see, Cutter embarks upon a tale that twists and turns at every opportunity; building upon the nightmare that has rooted itself on the isolated island with the vigour and imaginative flare of an author who is so obviously enjoying scaring the hell out of his readers. And dear god does it deliver the gut-churning goods with an astonishing gusto.
Throughout the length of the tale Cutter throws in chapters that provide brief snippets of information from ‘after the event’. Magazine articles, interviews, formal questioning of key military personnel, news headlines – a whole host of intriguing glimpses into what had happened in the calm hindsight of the aftermath. And with these snippets of information so carefully interspersed between the chapters of the unfolding tale, the reader’s horror-hungry-appetite is maintained at a constantly whetted state.
Even with all its manic horror and grotesque gore, the novel still hangs on to that ‘Lord Of The Flies’ (1954) character-driven-cum-coming-of-age-gone-berserk backbone. It’s constantly there at the very forefront of the storyline, and the tale is far the richer and more satisfying for it. Cutter has managed to keep together an impactful (and by god is it impactful) horror novel that keeps the reader engaged with the characters’ interaction with each other as much as the main horror aspect of the tale. Furthermore, the injection of an emotionally-driven ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ (1980) style scene, whereby two of the characters are confronted with death and suffering in all its most hard-hitting starkness, is more moving than you would have thought possible in a novel of this nature.
This is one that all lovers of visceral horror will not want to miss. A truly breath-taking descent into a disturbing abyss of nightmarish horror.
The novel runs for a total of 355 pages.
© DLS Reviews