Blackshirt Masquerade

Published by Historia, an imprint of Level Best Books

He’s the fascist’s new hero – and he plans to bring them down

London, 1935, and the Blackshirts of the British Union of Fascists are on the march. Disgraced army officer Hugh Clifton is recruited by MI5 to infiltrate the Blackshirts, but unwittingly becomes a hero of the movement.

Drawn into street battles against communists he uncovers a plot to bring mayhem to Britain and undermine the government. He is being watched by the sinister intelligence unit known as ‘Department Z’ as they are based in Room Z at the fascist headquarters. The best way to beat them is to join them.

Socialite Sissy is searching for a friend who vanished inexplicably, and the two investigations become entwined. The mis-matched couple face danger and treachery as they unravel the facts, and Hugh must decide who to trust ­– and who to betray.

The first of the Agents of Room Z series set against a Britain under the shadow of fascism.

ISBN 978-1-68512-096-2 (paperback)

ISBN 978-1-68512-097-9 (e-book)

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Selected Reviews (may contain spoilers!)

Mystery People magazine

5.0 out of 5 stars A good historical thriller.

It’s 1935 and the British Union of Fascists is hoping to raise its profile and gain recruits. Hugh Clifton had returned from India some time ago, having been cashiered from the army. He is staying with his father in Yorkshire — and his father wants to know what he intends to do with himself. An old friend, Charles (one of the few people who know the exact circumstances and unfairness of Hugh’s dismissal from the army) pays Hugh a visit and makes a suggestion. As a result of this Hugh is recruited by MI5 to infiltrate the BUF, and find out what they are up to – ‘No heroics, just simple straightforward intelligence gathering’ for very little pay. He joins the movement, and quickly manages to attract the attention of important members of the BFU when he acquits himself with distinction in a fight following a BUF meeting. The fascist intelligence unit, Department Z, is also interested and, after an uncomfortable interview, he is invited to join the unit. Hugh meets Sissy, a vivacious brunette and a supporter of the BUF, who is looking for a friend who has vanished and their separate investigations become entwined.

The main characters are well-described, likeable or not. Hugh fits the dashing man-of-action role well, and the reader can have empathy with him and other individuals on the edge of events, forced to participate in matters they do not understand. The story is written around actual events; the historical setting provides atmosphere and background and informs the plot without overwhelming it. The action moves at a smart pace, with espionage and treachery and plenty of suspense and surprise – a good historical thriller. This is the first in the Agents of Room Z series and it will be interesting to see what happens next.
Reviewer: Jo Hesslelwood (for Lizzie Sirett- Mystery People Group)
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 24 August 2022

5* Intriguing Historical Mystery

What a fantastic historical period in which to set a mystery. 1935 at the height of the pre-war fascist movement in Britain. Monaghan does an excellent job of bringing the reader inside the hearts and minds of ordinary people sympathetic to the fascist movement and we can understand why many of them thought they were supporting a ‘good thing’. There was no ‘these are the good guys, these are the bad guys’ and both the opposing communists and the fascists were drawn with humanity and empathy. It was also just a great mystery, with layer upon layer of intrigue as our hero Hugh and his not-so-flappy socialite girlfriend try to figure out what’s going on. Hugh Clifton is a cross between Bulldog Drummond and Didius Falco – I know, a strange mix, but those were the two characters I felt he resembled. Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond because of the ex-army officer looking for adventure and finding a new calling, and Didius Falco due to the charm of the character and the sense that though talented in some areas he was out of his depth in others – and he doesn’t have the most supportive family. This is a fantastic debut in the genre with marvellous attention to historical detail and an intelligent exposition of the political and social context. I was intrigued to see a slip into speculative history at the end – something that didn’t happen, but could have – which will take the next book (which I shall definitely read!) into the realms of alternative history. I’m fascinated to see what a talented author like Monaghan will do with it. Fiona VS, Amazon, August 2022

Discovering Diamonds Blog

5* Impeccably researched – the finest of historical fiction

I will confess that as recently as a few years ago, I had only the vaguest familiarity with the history of fascism in England. But the Blackshirts of the British Union of Fascists are having a new notorious moment. Their creepily charismatic leader, Oswald Mosley, had a long character arc in the dark and brooding cable series, “Peaky Blinders.” The BUF’s lingering malign influence on English society in the 1960s was featured in the recent excellent BBC series, “Ridley Road.” Now comes author Jason Monaghan with his contribution to the British fascist canon, Blackshirt Masquerade. And it’s a marvelous stemwinder of a novel that’s not to be missed by fans of historical mystery or great general fiction.

In this unabashedly character-driven mystery, Monaghan serves up two intricately drawn—and deeply flawed—main characters. Hugh Clifton, scion of new-money minor aristocracy, seems a haplessly misfortunate spoiled rich boy. Too young to have shared in the tragic heroism of the First World War, he’s packed off to India as a subaltern, only to be cashiered in disgrace after being conveniently (and falsely) scapegoated for the killing of unarmed civilians. Having received what were thought mortal wounds during this atrocity, he neglected to die and therefore must by necessity be court-martialed. He returns in disgrace to England and embarks upon an indolent life of lassitude until recruited by an acquaintance of his father to penetrate the BUF and gather intelligence on the movement’s finances. He soon encounters Sissy Rockwell, daughter of much more noteworthy nobility, who had been attracted into the fascist movement as a fashionably exciting antidote to her disastrous marriage.

What begins as a search for the BUF’s financial lifeline inexorably morphs into a murder mystery revolving around a friend of Sissy’s who went missing without a trace the previous autumn. And when that thread is pulled, the serpentine course of Hugh and Sissy’s investigations lead them into an elaborately woven tapestry of dangerous intrigue wherein nothing and no one is what they seem. This is indeed strange soil in which Hugh and Sissy’s deepening relationship blooms, but flourish it does.

The author develops both his vividly drawn characters and convoluted storylines—of which there are several—with unerring skill, a consistent and distinctive voice, and enviable craftsmanship. The book is impeccably structured and flawlessly edited, with an internal coherence that keeps the pages effortlessly turning. But the apex of Mr Monaghan’s artistry is his characters. These are all full-blooded, multidimensional, and utterly believable.

The book is impeccably researched and set within a malign movement few know much about. In the hands of an author as accomplished as Jason Monaghan, this is the finest of historical fiction. Blackshirt Masquerade is touted as first in a promised series that will give us additional endeavors of the Hugh and Sissy investigative team. I for one anxiously await the next installment, Blackshirt Conspiracy.

Originally Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds by Vine Voice, July 2022

5* Very Good

I liked this a lot…it was a pleasure to read…I have seen it listed as a ‘historical mystery’ elsewhere, and it certainly is historical, with espionage (MI5) and a good dash of detectiveness thrown in for good measure. The ‘Disgraced army officer Hugh Clifton’ character is immediately likeable, I did initially wonder if it would be a nod to another fictional ex-officer named ‘Hugh’, but nothing alike…and thankfully his eventual paramour is not a simple empty-headed character and instead plays a good supporting role, as do the other characters. It does mention historical facts as they develop in story-land real time and are not simply regurgitated to fill a page, which when done too much can drown a good story with ‘oh look I read a history book’ dry facts, here they are relevant to the story as it happens along and it feels natural and well done.
A big plus for me was that it didn’t fall into the trap (of which I have read in other recent historical period fiction) of using opinions or behaviours from our time to ‘voice’ a character in the book. Nothing worse when that happens as it can spoil the historical flow of the dialogue and inter-actions. This book feels comfortable and sympathetic to the times.
Personally, if your reading choices have previously included the likes of Buchan, Beeding, Wilson, and more recently Lyall, then this book will appeal to you. Definitely worthy of your reading time. Windy Tree, Amazon April 2022

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