First line: "After all these years, his best friend is malaria."
Using Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt's famed 1914 exploration of the River of Doubt in Brazil as his foundation, Louis Bayard shifts his imagination into overdrive and creates a thrilling adventure that would make today's action heroes envious.
The Roosevelt-Rondon expedition was moving slowly down the South American river. Their rations were running low and disease was running high. Due to dangerous rapids and currents in the water, the group would often have to carry the boats on land until they passed the hazardous areas. During one of these forays, Teddy and Kermit are kidnapped by the Cinta Larga, a Amazonian tribe.
Communication would have been impossible for the Roosevelt's among this strange group of people were it not for a young woman named Luz. Luz spoke Portuguese--as did Kermit; she wasn't born into the Cinta Larga tribe, but rather was absorbed by them when her family perished in the jungle.
Teddy and Kermit are determined that they will not remain with the Cinta Larga, nor will they die at their hands. Luz informs them both that the tribe will release them if they perform a special task on their behalf. They must find and kill the Beast, the monster that has been tormenting the tribe. It has killed man and animal alike, gutting its prey and yet leaving no tracks.
Left with no alternative, the Roosevelts--sick and malnourished--set off with two rifles, Luz and Luz's young son Thiago in search of the elusive Beast.
Reading a new novel by Louis Bayard is akin to a midnight ride on Santa's sleigh: it's magical, breath-taking and unforgettable. He gives you a view of the world you can't get anywhere else. Roosevelt's Beast continues his string of exceptional stories and incredible worlds.
Kermit Roosevelt is the "hero" of this story. The reader learns through his eyes and experiences. The expedition was not one he had any interest in joining--he had just become engaged and was wrapped up in wedding planning--but he was pressured to go along by his mother who worried about Teddy. Despite being an accomplished, talented young man in his own right, Kermit perpetually lived in the shadow of his presidential father. He's complex and troubled. Bayard uses this condition of his hero to re-create, re-shape and give voice to an engaging, compassionate and flawed adventurer.
Equally fascinating is the voice that Teddy then has in the novel as experienced through Kermit's eyes. The hodge-podge mixture of greatness and humor, yet vulnerability. Kermit's a son who looks up to his father, yet has to take care of him and protect him at the same time.
Bayard's firm understanding and knowledge of, not only the trip itself, but the entire Roosevelt family, is obvious in his approach to the historical elements as well as his manipulation of them. He brings the Amazonian world to life on his pages, leaving the reader swatting at bugs and hearing the whining call of the spider monkeys.
Roosevelt's Beast is multi-layered and definitely a book meant for re-reading. Forget all of technology's flashy special effects and enhancements, Bayard uses good old-fashioned imagination and creativity to haunt, engage, grip, tickle and entertain. It doesn't get more effective--or more magical--than that.
Roosevelt's Beast releases to the world in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0-8050-9070-3) this Tuesday. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1629234489), narrated by John Pruden from Dreamscape Audio.
Tomorrow Louis Bayard returns to the Five on Friday seat, so be sure to check back. In the meantime, enjoy his mock book trailer: