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Discussion Guide

Beat the Devils

By Josh Weiss

USA, 1958. President Joseph McCarthy sits in the White House, elected on a wave of populist xenophobia and barely‑concealed anti‑Semitism. 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 dead 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.

 

This discussion guide was shared in partnership with Grand Central Publishing.

Discussion Questions

Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.

Scholz wrote in his will, “I had a devil of a good time.” “Devil” is a recurring expression and term used throughout the book and takes on different meanings. Describe and compare all the ways it is used and how it relates to the themes within the story.

Discuss the role of cultural identity in this story compared to the way it plays in our current society (1950s vs. 2020s). How does it compare to what we see about identity today? How is it different?

At the end of the novel, Morris Baker decides to become a private investigator because he can “do more good that way.” How did Baker’s character change through the course of the story? Discuss key moments when you saw a shift in his mindset.