Published by Gallery Books on January 7, 2014
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction
Boy Scouts live by the motto “Be Prepared.” However, nothing can prepare this group of young boys and their scoutmaster for what they encounter on a small, deserted island, as they settle down for a weekend of campfires, merit badges, and survival lessons.
Everything changes when a haggard stranger in tattered clothing appears out of nowhere and collapses on the campers’ doorstep. Before the night is through, this stranger will end up infecting one of the troop’s own with a bioengineered horror that’s straight out of their worst nightmares. Now stranded on the island with no communication to the outside world, the troop learns to battle much more than the elements, as they are pitted against something nature never intended…and eventually each other.
“Lean and crisp and over-the-top....Disquieting, disturbing,” says Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan, The Troop is a visceral burn of a read that combines boldly drawn characters with a fantastically rendered narrative—a terrifying story you’ll never forget.
The Troop is not for the squeamish. In fact, much of it is downright disgusting. If you decide to read this book, prepare yourself for graphic, merciless descriptions of oozing sores, bloody wounds, and worms squirming into (and out of) a variety of orifices. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m recommending this book. I do have to mention upfront several instances of animal torture. It starts off somewhat mildly with the burning of ants, but it gets much, much worse as it moves on to a mouse, a turtle, a kitten, and a chimpanzee. The scenes are written quite gleefully, and in hindsight, I don’t know why I didn’t skip over them. I had to keep reminding myself, “This is fiction,” but it was still awful to read.
In The Troop, a group of five Boy Scouts and their Scoutmaster set out for what should be an uneventful weekend of camping on a deserted island. It soon becomes very eventful when a skeletal, obviously sick man lands on the island. Tim, the Scoutmaster, is a doctor, but he has never seen an illness like the one with which this man is inflicted. His healing instincts take over, and he enlists the help of one of the boys to perform what he hopes is lifesaving surgery on the man. Unfortunately, Tim doesn’t take into account how contagious this mysterious disease may be, and it begins to spread among the members of the troop. We learn about the origin of the disease before the characters do, as occasional present-day interviews and news articles are sprinkled throughout the story.
The boys fit a little too easily into convenient cliches: the bully, the fat kid, the angry kid, the peacemaker, and the psychopath. Their interactions help to hammer these cliches home, and they’re marked by heavy doses of bullying and fighting. Still, we care about the ones we are “supposed” to care about, and we’re suitably horrified by the psychopath (who, incidentally, is responsible for some, but not all, of the animal torture.)
I continually thought of Stephen King as I read this story, and I wasn’t surprised to learn afterwards that the author is a big fan. Unlike with King’s books, however, I was never scared, but I was horrified, disgusted, repulsed, and that works just fine for me, too.
Note: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.