62 pages 2 hours read

David Baldacci

The 6:20 Man

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


David Baldacci’s The 6:20 Man, first published in 2022, is a legal thriller marked by complex plotting and detailed character development. Baldacci examines Competitive Ambition, The Search for Truth, and Technology as a Double-Edged Sword as his protagonist, Travis Devine—a decorated US Army veteran who left the military under mysterious circumstances—learns to survive in a new profession as a low-level analyst in the competitive, cutthroat world of corporate finance in New York. While working for the financial house of Cowl and Comely, Devine must search for the truth after he stumbles upon a conspiracy following the death of his colleague Sara Ewes. Though Ewes’s death is initially ruled a suicide, Devine’s suspicions lead him down a path of discovery that places him at odds with some of the financial world’s most powerful figures.

This guide refers to the 2022 Grand Central Publishing print edition.

Content Warning: The novel and this guide discuss violence, murder, suicide, and the emotional impact of personal trauma.

Plot Summary

The novel delves into the murky waters of corporate corruption and the search for truth. It tells the story of Travis Devine, whose military career abruptly ended when he discovered a murder cover-up within the ranks. His discovery led to a violent struggle that ended in the murderer’s death. Devine was dishonorably discharged, and his exit from the military was shrouded in scandal. When the novel begins, Devine has reluctantly accepted a demeaning position at Cowl and Comely, a financial institution where he suspects that more than just numbers are being crunched.

The 51st floor of the Cowl and Comely building is a fortress of secrets, inaccessible to employees like Devine. His mundane routine is shattered when an anonymous email arrives, revealing the death of Sara Ewes, another Cowl and Comely employee whom Devine had once secretly dated before she ended the relationship. Her suicide turns out to be a homicide, igniting Devine’s quest for the truth.

As Devine begins to peel back the layers of the mystery surrounding Ewes’s death, Emerson Campbell, a retired military officer now with the Department of Homeland Security, enters the picture. Campbell is aware of the dark incident that led to Devine’s exit from the military and leverages this to recruit him for a clandestine operation. Campbell suspects Cowl and Comely of illegal financial transactions and sees Devine as the perfect inside man. Faced with the threat of being charged for the deadly military altercation, Devine agrees to work with Campbell to investigate the financial operations of Cowl and Comely.

Devine is assisted in his investigation by two of his roommates, Will Valentine, a Russian immigrant with a knack for hacking and security systems, and Jill Tapshaw, an MIT graduate who created a successful dating site called Hummingbird.

At first, Devine believes that Ewes stumbled upon the illegal operations Campbell is investigating within Cowl and Comely and that this led to her murder. This theory is reinforced when another employee, Jennifer Stamos, meets a similar fate. Despite being a suspect in Ewes’s murder, Campbell’s interference allows Devine to remain on the case.

Devine relies on Valentine and Tapshaw for technological support, uncovering a massive money-laundering scheme involving various entities, including foreign governments. But as he delves deeper into the financial corruption, the murders of Ewes and Stamos appear to be unconnected to the money laundering. Trust issues surface, especially toward Valentine and a third roommate, Helen Speers, who initially claims to be a recent graduate studying for her bar exam. It is later revealed that she works for Campbell and is helping watch over Devine.

A near-death experience from a gas leak in their home, presumably orchestrated by Valentine, creates further tensions among the novel’s characters. The plot thickens when Devine, piecing together various clues, discovers Tapshaw’s potential involvement in the murder when a critical moment of discovery suggests that her identity is more complex than Devine imagined.

The shocking truth surfaces when Devine discovers that Tapshaw’s twin brother, Dennis, who hoped to transition to being a woman, died by suicide, and that Ewes, once romantically involved with Tapshaw, had once carried Dennis’s child through an artificial insemination that Tapshaw arranged so that Ewes did not know the sperm donor’s identity. Ewes’s decision to end both her relationship with Tapshaw and the pregnancy led Tapshaw down a path of retribution, culminating in a series of calculated murders, including her arranging for Cowl and Comely custodian Jerry Myers to kill Ewes. Tapshaw herself then killed Stamos and Ewes’s parents because of things Devine revealed to them. Tapshaw killed Valentine because he had traced the email to her.

The narrative reaches its climax as the law catches up with Cowl, who dies in custody. Despite Devine’s efforts, the money-laundering operation at Cowl and Comely remains unresolved. As the novel concludes, with the money-laundering scheme disrupted but still operational, Devine reflects on his actions and contemplates the uncertain path that lies ahead. His future, once set in the firm structure of military life, now hangs in the balance as he ponders the implications of his newfound quest for justice and the personal costs of the truths he has unearthed.