With his booming voice, larger-than-life personality, famous spectacles and toothy grin, Theodore Roosevelt is a well-known and easily identifiable iconic figure. Born and raised in New York to a family of wealth and means, the extremely outgoing and popular “Teddy” Roosevelt is most famous for his time as the 26th President of the United States.
Roosevelt also served as Vice President, Governor of New York State, and NYC Police Commissioner --- a role that was fictionally depicted in Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST. His popularity has led to numerous fictional recreations, including a character from the beloved play Arsenic and Old Lace who is convinced he is Teddy Roosevelt. Born with severe asthma, Roosevelt decided at an early age to lead an exuberant life of adventure to overcome his physical and medical issues. To see a picture of him immediately calls to mind his famous harkening call of “Bully!”
Author Louis Bayard knows a little something about iconic characters. Among his prior novels are fictional tales involving Charles Dickens's beloved character of Tiny Tim Cratchit as well as the famous writer/poet Edgar Allan Poe. In his latest novel, ROOSEVELT'S BEAST, he takes on a fictional retelling of the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition that sought to map out Brazil via the Rio da Dúvida, or the River of Doubt.
"Bayard keeps the pace brisk and never lets the overwhelming visage of Teddy Roosevelt get in the way of the story. This terrific historical thriller simply cries out for a film treatment."
Teddy Roosevelt made such an impression on the residents of native Brazil that they renamed the tributary Rio Roosevelt in his honor. However, this expedition was not without its perils. Malaria and a deadly leg injury was just some of what Teddy had to suffer through during this lengthy trek. What Bayard has done is to take a small piece of this trip and fictionalize events that place Teddy and his son Kermit in the middle of a deadly situation involving the native tribe known as the Cinta Larga and a supernatural “beast” that is preying upon members of the tribe.
Teddy and Kermit find themselves kidnapped from their expedition team by the Cinta Larga for the express reason of hunting down and killing the beast that has been terrorizing their camp. Mangled and disemboweled animal carcasses have riddled the camp, and now the latest victims have been members of the tribe. Teddy is up for anything --- Kermit, not so much. Kermit constantly feels like a satellite in his father's universe and is only on the trip as a favor to his mother, who asked him to act as a scope that keeps his father grounded.
What transpires is an adventure into the Brazilian jungle worthy of any Indiana Jones film. Teddy and Kermit, aided by two young guides from the Cinta Larga, think they have vanquished the beast only to have more attacks against the camp. It becomes obvious to the Roosevelts that this beast may be more than just a supernatural being and its evil more earthbound than they would like to admit.
ROOSEVELT'S BEAST is a rough-and-tumble tale that harkens to an earlier age of serialized adventure stories. Bayard keeps the pace brisk and never lets the overwhelming visage of Teddy Roosevelt get in the way of the story. This terrific historical thriller simply cries out for a film treatment.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 21, 2014