107°F
weather icon Clear

‘Devil Himself’ mixes history, fiction for darkly comic tale

Looking for a quirky, witty look at World War II through the lens of alternate history?

Then look no further than “The Devil Himself” by Eric Dezenhall. It’s an enjoyable, educating journey through the dangerous world of the 1940s, when the mafia and U.S. government created an uneasy alliance to defend the homeland against German infiltrators.

Dezenhall’s book is fiction, but he bases his story on real-life events. For example, Operation Underworld was a top-secret campaign by the Navy to secure the port of New York during World War II with the help of racketeers. Another example is the Allied invasion of Sicily, code-named Operation Husky. Sicily is the bastion of the Italian mob. Did the mob assist the Allies?

Dezenhall writes that “a lot of folkore surrounds these events,” and he takes some creative liberties and changes some names in writing his story. I found the story to have some rich characters (especially Jewish mob boss Meyer Lansky) and a well-constructed plot, although it jumps around a lot. But Dezenhall takes a light-hearted approach to a superserious subject, and, for the most part, it works. It’s hard not to like a tale about the government and gangsters.

“The Devil Himself” begins in 1982 with an assignment for young White House aide Jonah Eastman. The Reagan administration is struggling to fight a spike in terrorism. A Reagan adviser asks Eastman, the grandson of Atlantic City gangster Mickey Price, to interview his grandfather’s old friend Lansky about his wartime activities. The Reagan team is hoping to learn something about the secret operation that may help them in combating terrorism.

Eastman travels to Florida and interviews Lansky, who is dying of cancer. Eastman gets a wild story involving the sinking of a cruise ship, espionage and more. Eastman learns the Navy was desperate to secure the coast, since German U-boats were seen patrolling offshore. The Navy turns to Lansky and asks for his assistance. Lansky enlists his mafia friends (including Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel and others) to help with the cause. Of course, trouble erupts.

Dezenhall takes the name of his historical novel from a real quote by wartime naval intelligence commander Charles Radcliffe Haffenden: “I’ll talk to anybody, a priest, a bank manager, a gangster, the devil himself, if I can get the information I need. This is a war.”

It’s a war indeed, as Dezenhall tells us a darkly comic tale about a chaotic period in American history. It’s fiction, but it’s a tale worth telling.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Celebration brings 5,000 guests to Skye Canyon

The Fourth of July Celebration held at Skye Canyon, a master-planned community in northwest Las Vegas was co-sponsored by Ed Bozarth Chevrolet. Kent Ahrens, general manager and partner of Ed Bozarth Nevada, Councilman Stavros Anthony, MayorPro Tem Michele Fiore and Councilwoman Victoria Seaman welcomed 5,000 guests to the celebration.

Buy car online, get home delivery with Findlay-Joydrive

Car buyers who want to forgo a trip to a dealership completely can now purchase a new or pre-owned vehicle online thanks to a partnership between Findlay Automotive Group and Joydrive. The newly purchased vehicle will be delivered to the customer’s home or place of business.

Findlay VW Henderson hosts event with Las Vegas Lights FC

Findlay Volkswagen Henderson presented Lunch With the Lights that included a meet-and-greet June 6 with pro soccer player Thomas K. Olsen, starting goalie for the Las Vegas Lights FC. The event drew hundreds of fans.

Week in Pictures: April 28-May4

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including Las Vegas Science & Technology Festival, Pirate Fest, weather and Canelo vs. Jacobs. Children play inside a hot air balloon provided by Las Vegas Balloon Rides during the Las Vegas Science & Technology Festival on Saturday, May 4, […]

Week in Pictures: April 21-April 27

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including Golden Knights playoffs, Raiders draft and WBA lightweight championship bout. The Meadows School third baseman Sam Kaplan looks in a high ground ball during fielding practice, he will play at Cornell University next year on Wednesday, April 24, […]

Week in Pictures: April 14-April 20

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including Golden Knights playoffs and Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend. The Pink Moon, the nickname for April’s full moon, is not pink at all but yellow and sets in the west behind the Raiders Stadium early on Friday, April […]

Week in Pictures: March 17-March 23

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including Vegas Golden Knights, Cesar Chavez Day festival, prep baseball and El Cortez shooting. Brooklyn Ruiz, 10, center, of Redlands, Calif., jumps out of the pool while playing with her cousin, Analyce Lopez, 11, of Redlands, Calif., left, and […]

Week in Pictures: March 10-March 16

Take a look at some eye-catching pictures from Las Vegas Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including the West Coast Conference tournament, the Mountain West tournament and the Pac-12 tournament. The Stanford Cardinals celebrate after defeating the Oregon Ducks during a NCAA college basketball game in the final of the Pac-12 women’s tournament at the […]

Week in Pictures: Jan. 14-20

Take a look at some striking pictures from Review-Journal photographers in the past week, including weather features, a boxing match and the super blood wolf moon. Ronald Holmes plays the alto saxophone on The Strip as dark clouds move in on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. Clouds, rain and snow are expected in […]