Mask of the Verdoy
by Phil Lecomber
LONDON, 1932 … a city held tight in the grip of the Great Depression. GEORGE HARLEY’S London. The West End rotten with petty crime and prostitution; anarchists blowing up trams; fascists marching on the East End.
And then, one smoggy night …
The cruel stripe of a cutthroat razor … three boys dead in their beds … and a masked killer mysteriously vanishing across the smoky rooftops of Fitzrovia.
Before long the cockney detective is drawn into a dark world of murder and intrigue, as he uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the very security of the British nation.
God save the King! eh, George?
THE 1930s … thinking debutantes, Bright Young Things and P. G. Wodehouse? Think again—more like fascists, psychopaths, and kings of the underworld. GEORGE HARLEY’S London is a city of crime and corruption … of murder most foul, and smiling, damned villains.
In part an homage to Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock, and to the writings of Gerald Kersh, James Curtis, Patrick Hamilton, Norman Collins and the other chroniclers of London lowlife in the 1930s, Mask of the Verdoy also tips its hat to the heyday of the British crime thriller—but unlike the quaint sleepy villages and sprawling country estates of Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot, George Harley operates in the spielers, clip-joints and all-night cafés that pimple the seedy underbelly of a city struggling under the austerity of the Great Slump.
With Mussolini’s dictatorship already into its seventh year in Italy, and with a certain Herr Hitler standing for presidential elections in Germany, 1932 sees the rise in the UK of the British Brotherhood of Fascists, led by the charismatic Sir Pelham Saint Clair. This Blackshirt baronet is everything that Harley despises and the chippy cockney soon has the suave aristocrat on his blacklist.
But not at the very top. Pride of place is already taken by his arch enemy, Osbert Morkens—the serial killer responsible for the murder and decapitation of Harley’s fiancée, Cynthia … And, of course—they never did find her head.
Mask of the Verdoy is the first in the period crime thriller series, the George Harley Mysteries.
PEARSON RETRACED HIS steps as best he could in the smog, chose a slightly different angle and ventured out again, this time managing to find the curved pavement of the crossroads, realizing he must have wandered into the intersecting street. He regained the tramlines and set off in what he hoped was the correct direction.
‘Harley! … Harley!’
There was still no reply from the private detective, so Pearson increased his pace to a quick march, keeping his eyes peeled for any further obstacles that might appear from the gloom.
After a minute or so with still no sign of Harley the policeman stopped to assess the situation. Surely he should have caught up by now? In his confusion had he chosen the wrong way? Was he now travelling back in the opposite direction?
Someone cleared their throat behind him.
Pearson span on his heels to come face to face with the unearthly features of the mask, the wispy tendrils of yellow-green smog adding to the spectral effect.
‘Harley! Christ, man! This is no time for practical jokes! … I was nearly crushed under the wheels of a cart back there, you know! Why the hell didn’t you wait for me? You must have heard me calling … Harley! I’m bloody talking to you! Harley?’
By the time he’d caught sight of the cosh, Pearson had finally realized that the masked man that stood before him was a good few inches shorter than George Harley, and was dressed in a completely different outfit. But of course, by then—as the leather-clad metal hammered into his temple—it was too late.
Most of his working life has been spent in and around the capital in a variety of occupations. He has worked as a musician in the city’s clubs, pubs and dives; as a steel-fixer helping to build the towering edifices of the square mile (and also working on some of the city’s iconic landmarks, such as Tower Bridge); as a designer of stained-glass windows; and—for the last quarter of a century—as the director of a small company in Mayfair specializing in the electronic security of some of the world’s finest works of art.
All of which, of course, has provided wonderful material for a novelist’s inspiration.
Always an avid reader, a chance encounter as a teenager with a Gerald Kersh short story led to a fascination with the ‘Morbid Age’— the years between the wars. The world that Phil has created for the George Harley Mysteries is the result of the consumption and distillation of myriad contemporary novels, films, historical accounts, biographies and slang dictionaries of the 1930s—with a nod here and there to some of the real-life colourful characters that he’s had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with over the years.
So, the scene is now set … enter George Harley, stage left …
Phil lives in the beautiful West Country city of Bath with his wife, Susie. They have two sons, Jack and Ned.
Phil will be awarding a $40 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour, and a $50 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn host.
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