When scoutmaster Dr Tim Riggs takes five young boys to the remote Falstaff Island to improve their survival skills they bite off an awful lot more than they can chew. The instruction to leave mobile phones at home on the mainland seems particularly unfortunate when a man stumbles out of the woodland, skeletal but ravenous. Riggs is a medical doctor and so his urge to treat the stranger overcomes his instinct to keep well away. Riggs commits the biggest mistake of his life – he brings the man into the scout hut. From that point onwards, I can only advise that you avoid all food while you read the rest.
It’s not long before the boys are on the run, trying to find a way off the island before whatever it is that has infected the place gets them. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that one of the boys, Shelley, is an out and out psychopath and probably the last person you’d want to be stranded with on a killer island. The other boys are likeable and doing their best to stay alive while remembering moments from their brief lives which brought them to this pass. It’s reminiscent of Lord of the Flies mixed in with something else, something terrifying, revolting and merciless.
I’m not going to mention what the threat is – you can experience the horror of the reveal for yourself – but it is utterly skincreepingly revolting! I have a low squeamish threshold and so there were sections I couldn’t read (at least not without a bucket handy) but if you like your horror visceral, physical and ugly, then you are going to love this. What the people trapped on the island must undergo is repulsive but its chill is extremely compelling. The Troop is an addictive read. You want to know what will happen to these boys. There are scenes involving Shelley, though, which I couldn’t read at all. We all have lines we won’t cross and those scenes (although very few in number) were well beyond mine.
The narrative is mixed in throughout with copies of documents – diary extracts, interviews, case studies – which give the threat context and history. I thought they worked well, not least for the breathing space they gave me.
Horror that thrills, scares and entertains is a lot of fun and The Troop excels at this. I can see older kids loving it, too. It is also surprisingly moving. I cared about (most of) the boys. Despite what they face, a great deal of care is taken to present their individual stories, worries and fears. If you’re looking for a book to take on a camping trip, though, I don’t think The Troop would be the best of choices.