Book Review for “The War Widow” by Tara Moss.
Billie Walker (that’s Ms. Walker, if you please) is just starting out in her Sydney Australia private inquiry business, which she inherited from her father, who died near the end of WWII. But the war is over now, and women are expected to leave their jobs, and go back home, to make room for the men who are lucky enough to return. Unfortunately, Billie’s husband Jack went missing during the war. She met him while she was in Europe working as a journalist. When her father fell ill, she had to return to Australia, and she hasn’t heard from Jack since. That means Billie has to support herself, and taking up her father’s business is all that is available to her. Not that she doesn’t like the idea – she does, very much. It’s just that… not everyone wants to hire a female PI. When a woman comes to ask her help to find her missing teenage son, what seems like a simple case ends up being anything but that!
Again, my regular readers know that I used to read Agathe Christie novels, and although I tend to veer away from series, I’ve been hoping to find something to fill the void of the good mystery novels that Christie succeeded in giving us. Yes, I know, there are many of Christie’s contemporary authors I could read, but I wanted to find a 21st century Agathe (or at the very least, a very late 20th century one). I tried an Alexander McCall Smith book with Precious, I also read one of the Phryne Fischer mysteries, as well as one of Beatriz Williams’ Wicked City books. More recently, I tried one of Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell books (review to come soon). Unfortunately, Williams’ novel was the only one that I really enjoyed, but it was more the writing that I appreciated than the idea of reading her serialized story, and decided I’d stick to reading the books she writes with Willig and White, as well as stand-alone novels (watch this space for my review of her upcoming novel “Her Last Flight”). The others just didn’t… grab me, I’m afraid.
Then along came Tara Moss and her first Billie Walker mystery!
Well, I have to say that Moss has bought me, hook, line, and sinker, and here’s why. To begin with, we have Billie herself, who is a truly lovable main protagonist. We know she must be beautiful, because men seem to be drawn to her. While that’s totally unimportant, we also know that she’s damaged – she’s still in love with a man who she doesn’t know if he’s alive or dead. Plus, we also know that she saw things while in Europe during the war that affected her very deeply, even scarred her emotionally. She has a level of vanity, but that’s mostly about her intelligence and her ability to investigate things to find the truth, about which anyone would be proud. She also has good lashings of humility, and she knows she has work to do to prove she can measure up to the competition. Billie is tough, but without the rough edges of any hard-nosed detective; Billie is feminine (with a favorite shade of lipstick that she might not be able to find soon), but she isn’t a fainting, delicate flower. Billie can drive like a race-car driver, but she’s careful about how much she drinks, and I would love to have drinks or dinner with her some time. She can look at a corpse and not faint dead away, but sometimes things can get to her, and that can keep her awake at night. In short, Billie is exactly what you’re looking for if you want a well-rounded, complex, female investigating your mystery in late 1940s Australia!
Moss also gives Billie a nice cast of characters to help populate the story. There is Sam, her assistant/secretary who lost part of his hand in the war, and can play either the muscled thug or the dashing partner at will. We also have her mother the Baroness who lives upstairs from Billie, and slowly selling off her things to keep herself solvent, but who still has her maid to help her out. We also meet a few other people along the way who will probably continue into the next books. One of them is the Inspector Detective Hank Cooper, who was a bit aloof to start with, but is already warming up to Billie. Another is Moretti, a fellow PI who is already Billie’s adversary, while being less than on the up-and-up in general.
All this would be good enough for an average rating, but Moss uses all these elements and puts together a beautifully researched, atmospheric story that has just the right amount of twists and turns, to keep you interested from start to finish. Plus, there are some scenes that will make your heart start pounding as you read them, and then Moss finishes off with a BANG of an ending that will leave you wishing that the next book was already available. In sum, this historical fiction, mystery novel is a lovely mixture of noir, adventure, and thriller, with a fantastic cast of characters. I’m giving it a full five out of five stars, and warmly recommending it to everyone!
Harper Collins AU released this novel under the title “Dead Man’s Switch” on October 21, 2019, while Harper Avenue released this novel in the UK on May 5, 2020, and Dutton will release it in the US on December 29, 2020. This book is (or will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (supporting independent book stores) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.
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