Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee Craig Davidson couldn’t have come up with a less inspired pseudonym than Nick Cutter for this pure-genre outing, but that’s the only knock against an otherwise outstanding tale of terror, full of chills, thrills, and very good kills.
The set-up finds a group of five teenage boy scouts and one adult scoutmaster camping on a supposedly uninhabited island off the edge of PEI. They encounter a man infected by a tapeworm that’s been genetically modified into an ultra-fast weight-loss agent and killing machine. In true gross-out horror fashion, the worm turns on the troop, leading to a series of escalating and thoroughly repellent scenes that play out like a splatterhouse version of Survivor.
Cutter confesses to borrowing the structure of Stephen King’s Carrie (intercutting the main narrative with background information in different media), but there is no need to acknowledge such obvious and inescapable genre debts. Every horror novel has to operate within convention, and The Troop is no different: the gang consists of predictable types (the Jock, the Nerd, the BFFs, and the Mysterious Loner), and Cutter employs various homages to Alien, Cabin Fever, and The Ruins. Familiarity comes with the territory; the only question is whether it all works. And in this case it does, marvellously.
Cutter has crafted a story that plays to his strengths. The island is an all-male environment, and the boys themselves are “machines that [run] on testosterone and raw adrenaline.” These are ingredients in the author’s literary fiction, and they are well employed here. The terror results from bodies disintegrating in stages, something for which Cutter displays a natural flair, and the story itself is a gritty tale of physical endurance, male comradeship, and personal conflict.
Strong characters, a snappy narrative, a wonderfully disgusting monster, and an obvious delight in going over the top with the gore all add up to one of the best horror novels of the last decade, one that is sure to have a future on the big screen. But in this case you really don’t want to wait for the movie.