Beat the Devils

September 1, 2021

An inven­tive, page turn­ing crime thriller set in an alter­nate Unit­ed States dur­ing the height of the Red Scare — with shock­ing par­al­lels to Amer­i­ca in the 2020s. USA, 1958. Pres­i­dent Joseph McCarthy sits in the White House, elect­ed on a wave of pop­ulist xeno­pho­bia and bare­ly-con­cealed anti­Semitism. The coun­try is in the firm grip of McCarthy’s Hueys, a secret police force evolved from the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee. Hollywood’s sparkling vision of the Amer­i­can dream has been sup­pressed; its remain­ing tal­ents forced to turn out end­less anti-com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da. LAPD detec­tive Mor­ris Bak­er — a Holo­caust sur­vivor who drowns his frac­tured mem­o­ries of the unspeak­able in schnapps and work — is called to the scene of a hor­rif­ic dou­ble-homi­cide. The vic­tims are John Hus­ton, a once-promis­ing but now for­got­ten film direc­tor, and an up-and-com­ing young jour­nal­ist named Wal­ter Cronkite. Clutched in the hand of one of the deadm men is a cryp­tic note con­tain­ing the phrase beat the dev­ils” fol­lowed by a sin­gle name: Bak­er. Did the two men die in an attack fueled by bet­ter-dead-than-red sen­ti­ment, as the Hueys are quick to con­clude, or were they mur­dered in a cov­er-up designed to pro­tect — or even set in motion — a secret plot con­nect­ed to Baker’s past? In a coun­try where ter­ror grows stronger by the day, and para­noia ris­es unchecked, Bak­er is deter­mined to find jus­tice for two men who raised their voic­es in a time when free speech comes at the ulti­mate cost. In the course of his inves­ti­ga­tion, Bak­er stum­bles into a con­spir­a­cy that reach­es deep into the halls of pow­er and uncov­ers a secret that could destroy the City of Angels — and the Amer­i­can ide­al itself.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Josh Weiss