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MASK OF THE VERDOY

BOOK ONE

It is 1932 and London is living in the shadow of the Great Depression. A spate of terrorist bombings threatens the devastated residents, who begin to turn to desperate measures to make ends meet. This sense of desperation is reflected in the radical politics of the era; ominously the British Brotherhood of Fascists (BBF), led by Sir Pelham Saint Clair, is gaining popularity, and the Blackshirts’ attitude of prejudice and intolerance to immigrants is spreading fast.

George Harley, a kind-hearted, cockney private detective with a strong but liberal sense of morality, is walking through Piccadilly late one night when he comes across a young lavender boy (rent-boy) being roughed up in an alleyway. He scares off the attackers and brings the boy back to his house to recuperate. However, a few days later the house is targeted by a mysterious masked assailant and things take on a dark twist.

Before long Harley finds himself working as a special consultant to the CID—something he swore he’d never do again following the Osbert Morkens case (see Harley’s back-story) and is partnered up with Albert Pearson – a young Detective Constable recently seconded to the Metropolitan Police from the West Country, and therefore as yet untainted by the rash of corruption currently infecting Scotland Yard.

At first the streetwise cockney finds Pearson a little too green for city life and has great fun ribbing this ‘farmer’s boy’ as he tries to get to grips with the perplexing attitudes and customs of the capital – especially its language. On many occasions Harley has to act as interpreter, with the Yiddish of the East End, the Polari of the lavender boys, and the rhyming argot of the janes and the ponces leaving the young DC feeling like he’s wandered into a foreign country (see the Glossary of Slang). But he slowly gains Harley’s respect and they start to make some headway in the case.

The investigation leads the new partners through a shadowy world populated with a cast of colourful and sometimes dangerous characters: in their search for clues they visit spielers run by Jewish mobsters, all-night Soho cafés frequented by jaded streetwalkers and their pimps, East End slums that have become the clandestine hideouts of political extremists, and the decadent and lavish freak parties of the young aristocracy (where Harley can indulge his love of the new Jazz music).

Meanwhile—with the help of jingoistic articles in the Daily Oracle—the political juggernaut of the BBF trundles on, with Sir Pelham Saint Clair gaining evermore public support for his vision of a fascist Britain. Harley witnesses at firsthand the charismatic effect the Blackshirt leader has on his followers at a BBF rally at the Albert Hall—an event that quickly descends into a pitched battle between the police and the anti-fascist factions demonstrating outside.

Surviving terrorist bombings, the machinations of the corrupt DI Quigg, and the stonewalling of the British nobility, Harley and Pearson follow the clues through the capital’s nefarious underworld eventually uncovering a plot that threatens to undermine the very security of the British nation.  

The period setting of the GEORGE HARLEY MYSTERIES should have an obvious resonance with the present day reader - with the Western world struggling in the grip of a global economic crisis, haunted by past military conflicts and turning to extreme politics as doom-mongers foretell the decline of civilization and the death of capitalism. Sounding familiar?

His experiences in the trenches of the Great War and a subsequent ill-fated career in the Secret Intelligence Service have politicised Harley to the point where he’s as eager for change as the Communists and Blackshirts campaigning amongst the slums of the East End. Having spent the closing years of the 1920s on a journey of self-education - embracing the exciting advances in science and culture of the mid-war period – Harley has reinvented himself as a truly modern man, and his liberal sensibilities make him the perfect guide for the reader through the sometimes alien world of Britain in the early 1930s.

In creating Harley’s world special attention has been given to the use of authentic slang and idioms of the period, and the adoption of a retro storytelling style perfectly complements the subject matter. There are also some timely themes woven into the narrative, such as Harley’s questioning of the British class system, corruption in the government and police force, and the manipulation of the press by the rich and powerful.

MASK OF THE VERDOY is the first book in the series of GEORGE HARLEY MYSTERIES.

 

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Case Ref:

MASK OF THE VERDOY

Investigator: George Harley
Date: March 1932
Case Note: No.27

ASSOCIATES / SUSPECTS / PERSONS OF INTEREST

DC ALBERT PEARSON
Young DC on secondment to the Met from the West Country - a little green, but possibly the only bogey in London I can trust.

MYSTERIOUS ITALIAN
Diminutive sadist. Climbs like a cat. Large scar disfiguring one side of his face. Possibly a screwsman or a top-storey man? Nasty piece of work.

‘IRON’ BILLY BOYD
Former prize fighter. Strong-arm for the little Italian. Looks like he could handle himself - approach with caution.

GENERAL SIR FRANCIS WILBERFORCE SWALES
My old CO from the 13th. Good old FW. Still smokes that sodding saxophone pipe!

DI QUIGG
My nemesis at Scotland Yard - the big venomous spider lurking at the centre of a web of corruption.

SIR PELHAM DEVEREUX SAINT CLAIR
The Blackshirt Baronet. Aristocratic leader of the British Brotherhood of Fascists (BBF). Former Member of Parliament and darling of the tabloid press. First-class cowson.

LADY EUPHEMIA DAUBENEY
Earl Daubeney’s niece and daughter of the late Richard Daubeney, the eminent scientist. Aristocratic beauty who has inherited her father’s brilliant mind and philanthropic nature. Impressive - for a toff!

MORI ‘THE HAT’ ADLER
Jewish mobster with a stake in every smash ’n’ grab, clip-joint, bottle-party and spieler in the West End. A dangerous man to have as an enemy - and perhaps even deadlier as an associate. We go back years.

SOLLY ROSEN
My best mucker since childhood. The former British middleweight champion, ‘Smokey’ Rosen (AKA The Yiddish Thunderbolt) now earns a wage as one of Mori Adler’s henchmen. Staunch.

EARL DAUBENEY
Bellicose former Viceroy of India. Old-school huntin’ and fishin’ brigade. Known associate of Sir Pelham Saint Clair and passionate opponent of what he sees as Britain’s post-war moral decay. In my opinion as dangerous as Mori Adler.

SALLY HIGHSTEAD
Cigarette girl at the Cat’s Whiskers night club - a former factory worker who has fallen in with the wrong crowd and teeters on the edge of ruin. Has developed a taste for the sauce.

VERN SLATER
Sally’s latest fling - bad decision, girl!–A small-time wide-boy ponce with the morals of a sewer-rat, who sees Sally as his next meal ticket. An asterbay of the first water.

BENNY WHELKS
One of Mori Adler’s enforcers - has a penchant for pickled seafood and the cold steel of a cut-throat razor. Possibly psychopathic. Approach with caution.

AMBROSE BOX-HARTNELL
Our puritanical, tea-total Home Secretary. A great admirer of Sir Pelham Saint Clair and the BBF. Known to the masses as ‘ABH’ for his crackdown on all things modern.

LORD RAINSWORTH
Influential Yorkshire press baron whose popular tabloid ‘The Daily Oracle’ champions the cause of Saint Clair and his Blackshirt bully boys. Lie-monger.

MAX PORTAS
Labour MP for Bethnal Green & Bow. Fighting a personal crusade against the Blackshirts. A good man.

‘RED’ JACK PORTAS
Max’s father. An old stevedore, passionate union man and hard as nails. Retired now, but still ready to roll his sleeves up and man the barricades.

VERA
A seasoned streetwalker. Robust and pragmatic, this experienced  nymph of the pave  is well-versed in the philosophy of the street and doles out her pearls of wisdom to anyone who cares to listen. Often a useful source of info.

GILBY SIDDONS
The camp thespian has seen better days and is now to be found ensconced in the upstairs bar of The Green Fox in Charlotte Street, like an old battered pianola, churning out his theatrical anecdotes and catty remarks for the price of a gulp of gin, or a quick fumble under the table. Invaluable link to the lavender boys.

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