Bookmarks: Devil's Den

Book by Timothy Ashby, '05

Written by Cheland David (reviewer)
March 19, 2012
Devil’s Den, written by Timothy Ashby, a 2005 JD graduate of Seattle University School of Law, is set in two different eras: the 1860’s and the roaring 1920’s. Ashby masterfully mixes characters and scenes from these periods to craft a page-turner that mixes history, mystery, romance and political intrigue.

The historical novel begins with an elderly Union veteran being brutally murdered on the battlefield of Gettysburg just weeks before the 60th anniversary of the Civil War’s climactic battle.

Seth Armitage, an agent of the nascent Bureau of Investigation (BI)—a precursor to the FBI—is assigned to the murder case. Armitage, a Virginian whose grandfather was killed in the Civil War, traverses the streets of Boston to the plains of Kansas and unearths a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of Washington.

Meticulously researched, Ashby seamlessly integrates fictional characters with real life icons including J. Edgar Hoover, Charles Lindbergh, Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan. A 20-something Hoover, trusted aide Helen Gandy by his side, plays a central role in the storyline as he makes his way up the law enforcement ladder.

The trail of corruption and cover-up Armitage discovers stretches over a period of six decades from the Battle of Gettysburg to the corridors of the Harding-era Congress. As he tracks his suspects, Prohibition is in full swing, racial injustice rampant and Civil War veterans are falling like flies—murdered in cold blood.

In order to find the killer, Armitage must figure out what links the victims, naïve to the fact that the investigation is being manipulated by Harry M. Daugherty, a real life Attorney General in the Harding Administration.

Aided by his girlfriend Peggy, the daughter of a deceased Union soldier and an archivist at the Library of Congress, Armitage ultimately unravels the truth, nearly losing his life in the process.

Meeting the requirement of a good historical mystery novel, at the conclusion of Devil’s Den we are left wondering, “What if?” Without giving away the ending, what if the famed Gettysburg address delivered by Lincoln had not been so pithy? What if Hoover hadn’t pushed for early forensic practices to be put in place by the BI? And bigger picture, what if the Union hadn’t won the Battle of Gettysburg?

It’s impossible to answer such questions, but Devil’s Den, through a skillful display of historical fiction, makes us ponder the alternative possibilities to today’s reality.

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