Nick Cutter’s “The Troop” is advertised on its front cover as a “Novel of Terror,” but it’s more like a high-class gore book.
That’s not meant as an insult.
Similarly, the back cover describes it as “28 Days Later” meets “Lord of the Flies,” when it’s actually closer to “Cabin Fever” meets “Bushwhacked.” Again, I’m not putting it down, mainly because… well… I couldn’t put the damn thing down. It’s well paced, tightly written and keeps you turning pages long into the night.
Although not as revolting as Ed Lee’s “The Bighead,” Bryan Smith’s “Depraved” or Wrath James White’s “Succulent Prey” (because it, mercifully, lacks sexual violence), “The Troop” might be the most gleefully grotesque novel that Simon & Schuster has ever published.
Admittedly, there were times when I felt that the gore slowed the story down a bit. I mean, I love movies like Lucio Fulci’s “The New York Ripper” and novels like Richard Laymon’s “Flesh” as much as the next guy, but when “The Troop” paused for three solid pages to depict the graphic slaughter of a sea turtle in agonizing detail… well the book just stopped dead in its tracks. Cutter was clearly making a serious point about the difficulty of killing something that wants so badly to live (mainly because he repeated that point twice in no uncertain terms), but did the turtle scene really have to drag on for so long? Was there no other way to introduce that concept?
The same holds true for a flashback sequence involving the torture of a kitten. The story just screeches to a halt while the graphic details pile up. Moments like these (and there are several others involving self-mutilation and bodily disintegration) might help to distinguish “The Troop” from the mainstream horror pack, but they do so at the expense of narrative momentum.
Aside from those few scenes, however, this is a very fun book. It’s an energetic, over-the-top monster story about five kids trapped on an island while being menaced by killer tapeworms. What’s not to like about that? It’s got a pitch-black sense of humor and a plethora of wonderfully sick images scattered throughout its pages.
I just wish that it had a touch more originality. Scott Smith’s similarly themed novel “The Ruins” had a unique, dreamlike quality that this book lacks. “The Troop” never quite transcends its enjoyable B-movie logline the way that Colson Whitehead’s brilliant zombie novel “Zone One” does. Nor is it interested in subtext or social satire like Chase Novak’s recent pregnancy horror novel “Breed.”
And yet I had a total blast reading it. Highly recommended for horror fans with strong stomachs.