History’s Mysteries

Bayard, Louis. Roosevelt’s Beast. Holt. Mar. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780805090703. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781429946865. F

In March 1914, Theodore Roosevelt and his troubled 24-year-old son Kermit join an expedition to explore the uncharted Rio da Dúvida (the River of Doubt) in Brazil. Guided by Teddy and jungle explorer Cândido Rondon, the company finds progress to be slow, as rapids, falls, whirlpools, and other obstacles bog down the adventurers. When food runs short, Teddy and Kermit violate rules by leaving the river in search of prey. As night falls and the dense jungle closes around them, the two are kidnaped by members of a primitive tribe who refuse to release them until they kill a legendary beast that eviscerates its victims without spilling a drop of blood. Thus begins a descent into malarial delusions and madness as the line between nightmare and reality vanishes. Is the horrific beast they seek a creature of nature—however savage—or a demon who invades souls and devours from within? VERDICT Bayard (The School of Night) describes this skillfully crafted novel as “a psychological fantasy built out of historical events.” His nightmarish tale, reminiscent of Scott Smith’s The Ruins, will appeal to fans of Dean Koontz and all those who like their adventure tinged with horror. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/13.]—Ron Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson

burnableHolsinger, Bruce. A Burnable Book. Morrow. Mar. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780062240323. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062240347. F

Medieval historian Holsinger’s first novel is an absorbing narrative exploring royal power and dissent in 14th-century England. King Richard II has many enemies beyond the borders of his kingdom and within. Factions among lords, the clergy, and commoners conspire to take the throne. Geoffrey Chaucer, at work on a series of sketches of everyday England that will become The Canterbury Tales, and an unlikely range of prostitutes, poets, butchers, and nuns are at the twisted center of this plot. With the help of poet John Gower, Chaucer seeks a treasonous book, often fatal to those who possess it, that prophesies a royal death. Multiple plotlines evolve, as noble servants and ignoble knights fight to the death to save the kingdom or bring it down. VERDICT Medieval England never tasted so rich nor smelled so foul as in this descriptive and intricately layered mystery. Holsinger is at his best describing the everyday lives and privations of the lower classes. He succeeds in elevating the missing manuscript genre to new heights that will entertain readers of both fiction and nonfiction. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/13.]—Catherine Lantz, Morton Coll. Lib., Cicero, IL