The War Widow

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Pub Date 7 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 27 Nov 2023
Oldcastle Books, VERVE Books

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WWII may be over, but journalist Billie Walker's search for a missing young man will plunge her right back into the danger and drama she thought she'd left behind in Europe in this thrilling tale of courage and secrecy set in glamorous 1940s Sydney.

It's 1946, and though war correspondent Billie Walker is happy to finally be home, for her the heady postwar days are tarnished by the loss of her father and the disappearance of her husband, Jack. To make matters worse, the newspapers are now sidelining her reporting talents to prioritise jobs for returning soldiers. Determined to take control of her own future, she reopens her late father's private investigation agency, and, slowly, the women of Sydney come knocking.

At first, Billie's bread and butter is tailing cheating husbands. Then, a young man, the son of European immigrants, goes missing, and Billie finds herself on a dangerous new trail that will lead her to the highest levels of Sydney society, and down into its underworld. As the danger mounts and Billie realises that much more than one man's life is at stake, it becomes clear that, though the war was won, it is far from over.


WWII may be over, but journalist Billie Walker's search for a missing young man will plunge her right back into the danger and drama she thought she'd left behind in Europe in...

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ISBN 9780857308672
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Featured Reviews

“’He looks a lot more like a body rolled in a rug than I was hoping.’ Ella observed quietly as she and Alma inspected their handiwork. ‘Let's hope we don't run into any neighbours or the next tenant meeting will be hell.’”

The War Widow, also titled Dead Man Switch, is the first book in the Billie Walker Mystery series by award-winning Australian/Canadian author, Tara Moss. It’s 1946 in Sydney, and the climate favours returned servicemen in jobs while the women who filled those roles during the war are relegated to domestic duties. Formerly a war journalist, Billie Walker’s current profession is already seen as a masculine one, so she’s going emphatically against the grain by running her deceased father’s private inquiry business.

But there’s a call for female investigative agents: obtaining evidence to allow wives to divorce errant husbands makes up the majority of her work, but Mrs Netanya Brown has come about her missing seventeen-year-old son, Adin. “A good boy”, she insists. Billie intuitively knows there’s something not being said, but a near empty work agenda means she can hardly be choosy. She takes the case.

Meanwhile, her confidential informant asks her to look into the welfare of four young women from her mob who have been assigned to work for a man in the lower Blue Mountains. And just why is Vincenzo Moretti, a PI with a grudge against the late Barry Walker, watching her flat?

Moss gives the reader a fast-paced plot filled with intrigue, some nasty villains and a heart-thumping climax. With mentions of fashion, petrol rationing, disfigured veterans, social attitudes and the scarcity of certain commodities, Moss easily evokes the era and ambience of immediate post-war Sydney.

Billie is feisty and determined, and manages to hold her own, although she does end up ruining several frocks and quite a lot of (difficult to come by) stockings. Luckily, she’s a dab hand with a sewing machine as well as a lockpick and her little Colt 908.

Moss gives Billie a marvellous support cast, with a hint of sexual tension between Billie and two of the male characters and occasional moments of dark humour. Some background matters remain unresolved, no doubt to be addressed in later books. Certainly, more of this excellent post-war Aussie noir series will be most welcome.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Verve Books.

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A very refreshing story!
Set in Sydney just after the war, with a great woman protagonist, but delving into deep dark secrets that some people will kill to hide.

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Strong woman in post-war Australia;
Billie Walker is a strong woman who inherited her father's detective agency. The book is set in 1946 and the aftereffects of the war can also be felt in Australia. As a European, I found it very interesting how people experienced the war there and what effects it had. The author has researched many historical details very thoroughly. I really liked Billie and her assistant, they are likeable main characters that I would like to read more about. They work in a structured manner and make good progress using their own resources. The charm of early US detective novels, which make me think of tough men and black-and-white films, was very evident here, despite the female main character. The case was exciting and was typical of the time in which it is set. I also thought it was good that dealing with the Aborigines was discussed. The writing style was pleasant and flawless. I would love to see more from Billie Walker!

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For me, this is a crime series with a twist. Billie Walker returns from being a reporter in Europe to Sydney after the war when her father becomes ill. She has reopened his private investigation agency to assist the citizens of Sydney. She usually deals with unfaithful husbands, but a fresh case has just arrived on her desk. A heartbroken mother requests that Billie locate her missing teenage son. They begin investigating the boy's last known movements with the help of her loyal helper Sam. This takes them down a dark path with the city's most dangerous characters. How did a young boy become involved in Sydney's underbelly, and where is he now? In addition, Billie has been requested to assist a friend who fears members of her family are being threatened by a man in the Blue Mountains. Billie is ready to go.

I had a very clear picture of Billie's life in 1946 Sydney when reading this book. Tara Moss' research has produced a scene in which you find yourself completely immersed. Being a Sydney girl myself, I could imagine the regions Billie and Sam were working in, although a few decades back. The architecture, clothes, and people's attitudes were all present. Billie has supporters, but she is also a working woman in a period when this is still looked upon. Not only that, but in many people's eyes, woman is doing a man's job.

Both Billie and Sam are compelling personalities. Both have been damaged by the conflict in more ways than one. Their stories have so much more to tell. During the war, Billie married Jack, a photojournalist, but he went missing. She is still hoping that he would return to her. In future novels, I want to discover more about Jack and what happened to him.

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