Blackshirt Masquerade is the first of a series of novels set in 1930s Britain under the shadow of fascism. Perhaps this is not the right time to read about dark episodes in our past, but perhaps this might be exactly the right time to re-learn the lesson of the chaos and suffering that a man who thinks he is the Great Leader can inflict. However, amid the darkness there is a thread of humour as my hero Hugh Clifton sees through the posturing of the fascists he must live among.
This is my first thriller published in eighteen years, and sometimes I wonder where the time went. Researching the Agents of Room Z books began in 2018 and writing the first occupied me for the first lockdown of 2020. By Christmas of that year, I had a contract with US publisher Level Best Books, who specialise in crime fiction and have recently added British writers to their stable including my colleagues David Stuart Davies and Matthew Booth.
A number of thrillers and crime books feature villains from the British Union of Fascists, including the later series of Peaky Blinders, but the Room Z books explore the movement from the inside. Talked into infiltrating the Blackshirts with a straightforward mission to report on where their funding is coming from, a twist of fate turns Hugh into a fascist hero – a tag which traps him in his role beyond the first mission. Unwisely he makes friends among the Blackshirts he must ultimately betray.
I’ve read a great deal about Sir Oswald Mosley over the past four years and have located a fair number of obscure reference works about his Blackshirt movement. The British fascists ended up on the wrong side of history in 1940, so the voice of grassroots members of the movement is difficult to find. Some information can be obtained from modern far-right websites and booksellers, which I’ll say more about in a later blog; two bookshelves in my study carry some quite dodgy content.
One temptation of writing a historical novel is to cram in as much research as possible, but I’ve written a thriller, not a textbook. Much of that research must remain in the files, but provides useful material for both speaking engagements and blogs.
Over the next few months, I will be making a number of public appearances to talk about the book and its historic background, including at the Alderney Literary Festival on the weekend of the launch and the Guernsey Literary Festival in May. More blogs will discuss the 1930s, fascism and creating fascist characters who are not Nazi stereotypes. News of the book and aspects of the plot will be appearing in Mystery People, The Dames Docket, the Crime Readers’ Association Newsletter and Case Files, among others in March and April. It is an exciting time!
The fascists never took control of Britain, but with the right plan they might just have succeeded.