2014 got off to a roaring start with this downright ferocious exercise in no-frills horror. I donít mind admitting that THE TROOP worked me over like no other novel in recent memory, being an unerringly suspenseful, intense and damn scary read.
The situation is this: five 15-year-old boy scouts, whose ranks include the macho jock Kent, the put-upon nerd Newt and the creepy Shelly, are on a weekend camping trip in the Canadian wilderness, together with their middle-aged scoutmaster Tim. On the first night things proceed as normal, with the boys picking on Newt and Tim barking at them to go to sleep, until a shockingly emaciated man turns up. This character evinces an astounding appetite despite his gauntness, and seems dangerously aggressive.
The man, it transpires, has been infected with a bioengineered parasitic worm that multiplies rapidly and causes voracious hunger pangs. The worm is also extremely contagious, capable of transferring its spawn quite easily--a fact Scoutmaster Tim learns firsthand when the infected man regurgitates in his face.
You can be sure that contagion is a definite concern over the course of the ensuing weekend, as fear and desperation take hold of the troop and a toxic LORD OF THE FLIES-esque social dynamic prevails. Extreme hunger is a constant, as is mutilation (self and otherwise), physical mutation and insanity, while you animal lovers probably wonít be too pleased with one especially disturbing passage involving a cat, or an even more appalling bit involving a sea turtle.
The nastiness is enhanced by the authorís talent for spot-on descriptions that encompass all the senses (i.e. an infected individual hearing ďA tight, slippery sound like a Vaseline-coated rope pulled through a tightened fistĒ emanating from his insides), as well as the focus and economy of the narrative. You may--okay, very likely will--be grossed out by this book, but I guarantee youíll have a hard time putting it down.
My one complaint (a minor one) is with the use of retrospective newspaper clippings, magazine interviews and so forth to fill out the narrative. While this device succeeds in imparting various explanatory tidbits in an economical manner (meaning the clippings are kept short enough that they donít compromise the storytelling momentum), it also gives away several crucial details (such as the number of people who survive the weekend) too far in advance.
That annoyance aside, THE TROOP is a triumph in every respect, satisfying as both a creepy-crawly horror story and a profound glimpse into the heart of darkness.