Review: Roosevelt’s Beast

Roosevelt's Beast, Louis BayardIn 1914, Theodore Roosevelt, his son Kermit, and a handful of naturalists and explorers began a months-long trip down the Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt), an unmapped tributary of Brazil’s great Amazon River. The expedition claimed the lives of several, and nearly killed Roosevelt.

Louis Bayard’s novel Roosevelt’s Beast uses this true trip as a foundation for a psychological thriller that pits Roosevelt and Kermit against a terrifying unseen beast, a foe that mutilates its victims and drinks their blood.

What is this beast? Is it a member of an undiscovered species, or a known but incredibly violent animal? Is it terrestrial, or even real at all? How can they defeat a creature they can’t even see?

Not really my thing

It’s never a good sign when the best thing you can think to say about a book is, “Well, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read.” The story is nicely written and has some great horror elements, but I just wasn’t feeling it.

I think it’s because I already know too much about the real Roosevelt. It started two years ago with Richard Zack’s Island of Vice, continued last year with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, and right now I’m about halfway through Edmund Morris’ Colonel Roosevelt biography.

Roosevelt was such a marvelous, interesting person, and his trip down the treacherous river fascinating enough, that Roosevelt’s Beast felt like overkill (pardon the pun).

Spoilers ahead

The truth behind the “monster” killing the local natives, and its connection with Kermit, didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

How could this thing that basically lives inside Kermit be killing people no one knew existed, before Kermit even got near them? It just happened to be chilling in an unmapped armpit of an unmapped river on the off-chance that Kermit would saunter by?

And if it used to live inside Kermit’s dead uncle Elliott, whom Kermit never even saw, how would Elliott be able to haunt Kermit and pass along the “beast”?

Give Roosevelt’s Beast a pass, and pick up a biography instead. Roosevelt’s real life is exciting and interesting enough!

(I read this book as a part of the 2015 Monthly Motif Challenge. September’s challenge was to read a book that includes an animal either as a main character or supporting character.)

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