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Tuesday 10 October 2023

‘Blackshirt Conspiracy’ by Jason Monaghan

Published by Level Best Books,
10 October 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-68512-450-2 (PB)

In 1935 Hugh Clifton had returned from India in disgrace, cashiered from the Army.  He now occupies a precarious role as an MI5 informer within the fascist British Union and, following his actions in a fight is, as he describes it “stuck with the Blackshirt hero tag”.  Established within Department Z, the BU’s own intelligence unit, he has built up a small team, as well as some surprising contacts in other organisations.

In 1936 Britain is facing a political and constitutional crisis.  The BU is edging towards power, the King’s American mistress (Wallis Simpson) threatens to destabilise the monarchy, and secretive forces are manipulating events for their own ends.  Hugh is now involved with Section Z3, the BU’s Confidential Investigation Section, located in Room Z.  His lover, Sissy, is a member of the BU’s Women’s Section.  She knows of his dual role, but he has managed to gain her support.

Investigating a simple burglary, they uncover a murder and a rapidly growing web of intrigue.  The BU are phoned by Mrs Hardcastle who says that, in her husband’s absence at a farm dispute in Kent (as an activist in the Fascist Union of British Workers), their home has been burgled by communists.  Sissy goes to investigate and, like Hercule Poirot, realises the potential evidentiary possibilities of firelighters - whilst at the Hardcastle home, she discovers a heap of sooty scrap paper, one sheet of which has the beginnings of a draft letter from Mr Hardcastle to Cosmo Lang. Archbishop of Canterbury, in which he refers to ‘Wallis S’ and’ the Chuchr’.  Shortly after Sissy’s visit, Hugh learns that Mr Hardcastle has been murdered. 

The action accelerates and Hugh and his agents struggle to unravel the conspiracies that entangle the government, the church, and the monarch, as the various factions and interests compete in a deadly struggle for the very future of the country.

This is the second book in the Agents of Room Z series and includes a useful list of characters (real and fictional) and a note on British Union ranks and titles.  It’s a fast-moving story and the tempo and tension never really let up.  The British Abdication Crisis, of which the majority of the country knew little or nothing, is a fascinating piece of history and the author makes full use of its potential to create a gripping story.  Trusted colleagues prove treacherous and violent forces move swiftly to gain advantage.  Ultimately, the author sets up a fascinating scenario for the next stage of Hugh’s life.
Reviewer: Jo Hesslewood
Other books by this author:  Agents Of Room Z:  Blackshirt Masquerade;  Glint of Light on Broken Glass;  The Jeffrey Flint Archaeology Mystery Series:  Darkness rises, Byron’s Shadow, Shadesmoor, Lady in the Lake, Blood and Sandals.

Jason Monaghan  born 1959 in Yorkshire is a novelist and Roman archaeologist. He has also at times been a financial regulator, an anti-money laundering specialist and a bank director. The eccentric side of Archaeology provided the background to his first five novels written under the pen-name of Jason Foss, and he is an active member of the Crime Writers Association. Glint of Light on Broken Glass is his first historical novel. Major projects he has worked on include Britain's most intact Roman ship (from Guernsey), and possibly the only known English Elizabethan shipwreck (off Alderney). His PhD thesis was on the Roman Pottery of Kent and he later published research on pottery from the Roman fortress of York. Each summer since 2009 he has led a group of friends excavating in Alderney, investigating what looks to be Britains finest small Roman fort. He lives in Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

Jo Hesslewood.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.

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