Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Nick Cutter’s The Troop (2014)

A Stephen King blurb. And, it’s declared: a novel of terror. Nick Cutter’s readers know what they’re in for.

Nick Cutter Troop

And, if there was any doubt, little clues speckle the first few chapters.

Readers are “waiting for unknown wickedness”.

There are shadows coalescing into permanence and logs groaning. There is a sheet of insects cloying and a hand settling on a shoulder like a claw. Sunlight is glinting off braces, and a ball of snakes is hissing.

Images are dangled for effect, and we are to think of something being like a disembodied head in a sideshow oracle, or moving with the shamble of a disoriented bear, or smelling like the syrupy foulness in the bottom of a trash can.

These are isolated details which accrue and contribute to the story’s chill. But more powerful are the strings of details which swell.

The images of power, for instance, whether it is the smashing of a radio and the chaotic sparking mess of it, or the ordinary descriptions of fuses and cables, or the sensory details of green fuzz on old batteries or the taste of sucking on the metal.

But all of this is the tissue, and what sets this novel apart, what moves the fluids through its veins, is the troop: five boys who met as Beavers, moved up the ranks, and are now ready for an independent hike.

The diligent training of Scoutmaster Tim has informed Ephraim, Kent, Max, Newton and Shelley about a variety of wilderness and survival skills, but not even  42-year-old doctorTim Reeves is prepared for the threat on Falstaff Island. 

That’s where it unfolds: 15 kilometres off the northern point of Prince Edward Island, on a landmass 10.4km in circumference, in three parts and 50 chapters.

The island, which is normally uninhabited (the troop knows this because it’s familiar territory and readers know this because the National Resources Canada Geographical Survey Report is included as one of the supplementary “documents” which dapple the narrative), is naturally protected, naturally isolated (the troop master intended the former, but the boys experience the latter).

It is a familiar place and the terrain and flora and fauna are recognizable. Which is what makes good horror stories so frightening, when the known collides with the unknown and unknowable.

Consider the following observations, seemingly innocuous.

“Medical instruments were often just precision variations of the same tools handymen used.”

“There are those who say the best scientists occupy that dangerous headspace teetering at the edge of madness.”

“But that’s people. People care too much. They love at all costs. And so they pay the ultimate price.”

Each of these statements could have resulted in a narrative very different from The Troop. Perhaps a DIY guide. Or a college student’s term paper. Or a Joyce Carol Oates short story.

But in Nick Cutter’s narrative, the mechanics are solid, the storyteller’s voice is dedicated and unflinching, and the story relentless and captivating. It is the whole package.

The Troop is a truly engaging and gut-wrenching tale; even if readers can hardly stomach it, they will feel driven to gobble it up.

Companion Reads:
Emily Schultz’ The Blondes (2012)
Lawrence Hill’s Blood (2013)
Maggie Helwig’s Girls Fall Down (2004)

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4 comments to Nick Cutter’s The Troop (2014)

  • This is the first blog review and recommendation I have read about this book, and now I think I would definitely like to read it, although two of my kids are in cubs. I might be hesitant to send them out on a hike with their pack after this. Thanks for the great review!

    • On a positive note, the boys’ survival skills were definitely required, so perhaps you’ll be more – not less – likely to send them, just sticking to mainland destinations perhaps?! I hope you enjoy it; it’s very well done.

  • This sounds scary and eery. I’m sure I’d have bad dreams for weeks if I read this … sort of like the effect of the Blair Witch project. Cheers.

    • It was totally a daytime-read for me and although I was shocked NOT to dream about it, I think about some of the scenes in waking life even weeks later, and maybe that’s worse! (Still, the sign of a good storyteller, I’d say.)

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