Bayard (The School of Night, 2011, etc.) draws dark fiction from the real-life Roosevelt-Rondon 1914 exploration of Brazil's Rio da Dúvida.
Bayard exactingly chronicles the hardships of charting the river, right down to the damp, dangers and drudgery of the Amazonian jungle, but it’s the physical and emotional trials of Kermit, Teddy Roosevelt's son, that drive the story. The 20-something Kermit has been sent along to protect his boisterous father from his own recklessness. Kermit worships his father, but he also feels a strange kinship to his wastrel uncle, Elliott, the family’s black sheep. Famous names and true-life exploration aside, Bayard’s novel captures a great adventure, with the expedition navigating in cumbersome dugout canoes, running short of food and fighting off malaria. Danger enough, but then Teddy wanders from camp while hunting for food. Kermit follows protectively, and the pair are captured by Cinta Larga, a tribe of cannibals. The tribe is being plagued by the "Beast," a thing that kills "beyond malevolence." If the Roosevelts kill the Beast, the tribe will set them free. Bayard describes tribal life realistically, employing a young female character, the bilingual Luz, a missionary group’s only survivor, to bridge cultural barriers. Teddy and Kermit kill the Beast, which seems to be a large howler monkey, but then Kermit glimpses "the look of boundless sorrow in the howler’s eyes and realizes an evil entity has leapt from the howler into a nearby human. Bayard’s heart-of-darkness saga is impressive—blood and sacrifice, primitive peoples and Roosevelt courage. Kermit’s powerfully drawn in the expedition, in his inextricable link to the Roosevelt name and in his sad decline in 1943 Alaska. Luz and the Cinta Larga are believable, as are Rondon and the exploration party. Teddy, however, seems one-dimensional, all Bull Moose–San Juan Hill, no matter how dire the circumstances, leavened only by his love for his son.
A suspense-filled re-imagining of history deepened by a confrontation with evil’s supernatural presence.