The Beast in the Jungle by Louis Bayard

Step into the depths of the Amazon Rainforest and discover a hidden world detached from civilization, A swarming tropic ridden with new life forms, curious tribes, disease and uncharted territory. Amongst the natural world, a dark force strikes terror into the lives of the inhabitants and its distinguished visitors.

The Beast in the Jungle is based on the famous Rossevelt-Rondon Exhibition in 1913-1914, in which former US president Theodore Roosevelt set out to chart the previously unknown River of Doubt accompanied with a team of explorers and scientists . Amongst his companions was his son Kermit Roosevelt, joining his father somewhat reluctantly, being newly engaged and only attending him at the request of his mother who had her own concerns about his health.

Ravaged by Malaria and the very real threat of starvation , the crew have great difficulty navigating the violent rapids of the river and set up camp to determine their next course of action. A sequence of events results in Roosevelt and his son being captured by local tribe the Cinta Larga and they are forced to bargain for their lives. An unknown beast is enacting savage killings and if The Roosevelts want to go home they need to destroy it.

This a thoroughly entertaining psychological thriller, it propels the reader into a hostile environment. It explores how human beings cope physically and mentally when faced with a single minded desire to live. At the core of the story is the relationship between Kermit and his father. The former suffers with a sort of inferiority complex, he feels unable to live up to the Roosevelt ideal and the strain of his fathers forceful personality.

Having previously known little of Theodore Roosevelt. I found certain aspects of his character a little hard to swallow. For myself, his attitude toward the local ‘savages’ and his various anecdotes about the killing of big game and other animals for his ‘sport’ along with his general indifference to the natural world made him a character I couldn’t relate too. He was of a course a man of his time along with Kermit and certainly not alone in his pursuits, however as a result I found it difficult at times to conjure up much concern or sympathy when the hunters became the hunted.

Despite all of this his humour and charm are evident throughout the novel and his no nonsense attitude is very endearing, I liked him.

This novel is a heady mix of historical fiction and the supernatural and leaves the reader to form there own interpretation of what or who the beast of the jungle is. Those familiar with the actual fate of the central characters will doubt find it both poignant and thought provoking. A work of fiction has none the less made me curious to learn about the real events and just like that a new part of history is made to known to me.

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