Reviews: The Troop

Dark and ugly, not in a good way

I was interested in reading this book since the author Craig Davidson aka Nick Cutter appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast, and after learning that even Stephen King found it scary.

I finished the audiobook in a couple of days. In the end, I feel somewhat ambivalent towards it. It's well-written, to be sure, the prose sharply detailed. Cutter is clearly a student of King's writing, an influence that shines through in just about every passage. But it didn't really scare me. It disgusted me when appropriate and made me really tense up a few good times, but I wasn't scared. In the end, I was left more depressed than anything else. It's a very cynical, unrelentingly dark story.

More often than not, I was too distracted by its shortcomings to be properly horrified. Like I said, there's a huge Stephen King influence, to the point where it simply seems like a Canadian version of one of his stories rather than the author's own voice. This ends up being to the book's detriment. Like King, Cutter doesn't seem to have a real grasp on how modern kids talk; there were times I thought the story might be taking place somewhere in the '80s or early '90s based purely on the dated, goofy vernacular the five main boys speak in, until cellphones and Facebook are mentioned. I dunno, I've never been to Canada. Maybe that's how kids really do talk up there. Speaking of the kids, I went back and forth on how I felt about them. Sometimes they felt like real people, other times they were completely unbelievable. In particular is a character who could be the poster child for The Sociopath, who becomes so Obviously Evil at a certain point that it just got ridiculous when everyone else kept tolerating and listening to him; another element that reeked of King. I also felt that the story, in spite of all of its Gorn and Body Horror, never really went all the way with its monster. It had a perfect opportunity to display a freaky new breed of zombie, and never took it.

Even so, the monster(s) of the book (aside from the stereotypical sociopath) is freaky as hell. It's really a biologically engineered virus, and the true fear is derived from the paranoia of infection that it breeds within every character. That, along with Cutter's penmanship and a few solidly written sympathetic characters (such as Newt, Max and Scoutmaster Tim) are the book's biggest strengths. Otherwise, The Troop wore thin for me after awhile. If you like a lot of dark, grotesque stuff written about in loving detail, this is for you.