I suppose it's only human to want only bad people to die horrible, painful deaths--especially if they are children. I guess that allows us to say "they had it coming." If, in our stories, decent, average people meet terrible, gruesome ends, it probably strikes too close to home. The problem is that it also diminishes the horror of an otherwise spectacular book.
Last week, I wrote about what I call The Psychopath Syndrome, the trend for horror writers to turn all their characters into despicable, unlikable people. I argued that it takes away from the story, because most of us know very few psychopaths and can't relate to them. This book is an excellent example of that syndrome.
First, the good stuff.
The Troop is a creepy, creepy story. The conveniently-named Nick Cutter does an amazing job building tension and creating a sleep-with-the-lights-on-story. The monster is skin-crawlingly good and other writers should use this book as a case study in how to turn mundane things into objects of horror. The peril and danger mount throughout and you really do question who--if anyone--will survive.
But the characters are a problem.
The book is about a small Boy Scout Troop camping on an island off the coast of Prince Edward Island in Canada (yes, the land of Anne of Green Gables). Through a series of events, they are exposed to a what amounts to a horrifying biological weapon that eats human beings from the inside out. Chaos ensues and soon the Scoutmaster and his boys are all turning on each other making things even worse. It soon devolves into a Lord of the Flies scenario, but with a real monster picking the kids off one at a time.
The problem is that none of the characters are likable. Period.
The Scoutmaster is a bit wishy-washy, one of the boys is a sociopath, another has serious anger-management issues, another is a weakling, and another is a full-on serial-killer-in-the-making. There is only one boy--ONE!--that I would classify as a somewhat normal human being, but he fails the likable test by the simple fact that he just isn't on the page that often for most of the book (the weakling/nerd also turns out to be decent, but starts as a doormat). The end result is that I couldn't bring myself to care about them, which significantly diminished the scare factor.
In the end, I did enjoy the book. A lot of it is incredibly well-done, and I will keep an eye out for more of Cutter's work in the future. I just hope he discovers that not all characters are horrible human beings.