Nick Cutter, THE TROOP
The setup is pretty straightforward. Scoutmaster Tim Riggs has brought five teen Venture Scouts -- Kent, Max, Ephraim, Newton, and Shelley -- to an isolated island for the weekend. The only way to communicate with the mainland is through a radio, and even with a storm approaching Tim doesn't anticipate and problems and looks forward to a calm weekend, followed by their pickup by boat Monday morning.
Enter the mysterious, deadly stranger. The mysterious man is perpetually hungry (in a pre-story tabloid article, he's described as devouring four Hungry Man Breakfast platters -- and the napkins), amazingly emaciated, and suffering from a disease that "If this gets out, it'll make Typhoid Mary look like Mary Poppins." Soon everyone is trapped on the island with no way to communicate with the mainland, the disease (and its gruesome cause) is spreading, and order is breaking down.
And there's a reason Cutter included a quote from The Lord of the Flies in the novel's opening: The kids all have their issues. Kent is a bully who pretty much dominates and challenges everything because of his size. Max is thoughtful and friends with Ephraim, but Ephraim has trouble controlling his rage. Newton is an overweight nerd who's very smart and a magnet for the other boys' abuse. And Shelley seems quiet and withdrawn at first, but it's soon apparent he's a sadistic sociopath who sees their dire situation as an opportunity for cruel and deadly fun with his Scoutmaster and fellow Scouts. And as adult control soon vanishes and the boys become more scared and desperate, rules of society and the Venture Scouts soon fray and vanish.
The Troop is pretty effective. While the scenario is like a "create the ideal situation for isolation" exercise,
Cutter does a good job drawing out the characters' personalities and weaknesses; this lets us follow their progress and the situation worsens. Cutter also interrupts the action on the island with fake items -- from interviews with the disease's creator to a GQ article about what happened on the island -- that do everything from give us disgusting examples of what the disease did to test animals to foreshadow how many people survived on the island. And while there are plenty of gruesome events (including one near the end that seems to violate the rules the novel set up for the disease), the most harrowing moment is a seemingly small event that reminds us that these Scouts are still just kids.
The Troop can revel in its shock factor somewhat often, but it is still pretty suspenseful and scary. Just don't read it too soon before or after eating.
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch