THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE – Louis Bayard

DSC_0160ISBN 978 1 84854 234 1 Published by John Murray

This is a very difficult book to review. It is filled with suspense like a strong psychological thriller, but it’s also rather historical in feel, and is a crime story in many ways, too.

The basic plot is simple enough: in 1914 the former US President, Theodore Roosevelt was in South America. Always seeking adventure, he persuaded his youngest son to join him on an expedition down an unmapped river through the jungle, joining a party led by the famous Brazilian explorer Rondon. On their journey they must endure many hardships, from starvation to disease as well as the constant threat of death by drowning or being killed shooting rapids. It is a strenuous, difficult journey with no guarantee of how far they must travel.

Hearing animals, Roosevelt and his son, the alarmingly named “Kermit”, leave their camp one night armed with their rifles. They try to shoot the animal so that they can help feed the party, but become lost, and are then attacked and captured by an Indian tribe, the Cinta Largo. Here they learn of a monster in the area, a beast that is killing their people. They recognise in Kermit and his father two hunters who can destroy this beast. Achieve that, they say, and the two Americans can leave and return to their party.

Thus begins their hideous journey.

Now, I am not a connoisseur of horror books and wouldn’t recommend this if it were one of that genre. There are some pretty bloodthirsty scenes, it’s true, but the main thing for me about this book is not the detail of the story but the wonderful writing. Louis Bayard is a superb writer. I began this book while walking the dog (not the most auspicious beginning for a book, but I’ve found it the best way to get into a book for first reading). It gripped me from the first page – perhaps because the very beginning is set in later years while Kermit lives in Alaska, a state I love – and I didn’t feel able to put the book down until I’d consumed the whole story.

There are aspects that a more ungenerous reader could quibble at. Put it like this, a rigorous scientist would find some aspects hard to swallow. However, put those reservations aside, folks. This is a brilliant book, with a story put down with great gusto. It gives the feel of a bygone age, and tells a story of real adventure in a terrifying, claustrophobic location.

I really enjoyed it – try it yourself!

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