The War Widow by Tara Moss front cover

Billie Walker does not want to accept that she is a war widow, even though it has been a couple of years since she last saw her husband. Nor does she have any intention of working as a reporter for the society pages. She enjoyed being a war correspondent in Europe and working side by side with her husband, Jack, who was a photojournalist. Like many women after World War II, Billie has no desire to go back to the way things were before the War. In Billie, Canadian-Australian author Tara Moss has created a fiercely independent heroine in The War Widow.

Originally published in the US in 2021, the book has been released in the UK and is set in Sydney in 1946. The War may be over but its impact is still being felt. The men who have made it back to Australia are not unscathed. Throughout the book there are references to their injuries, gas rationing is still in effect and there are shortages of certain items. It is apparent from her descriptions that Moss has thoroughly researched the time period in Sydney.

Research would confirm that Billie is an unusually independent woman for the post-war period. She was raised by her socialite mother and police officer turned PI father to be that way. After her father’s death, Billie took over his Private Inquiries Agency. Investigating errant husbands is the mainstay of her business. Billie finds this work a little dull after the things that she witnessed in Europe, but it pays the bills.

She is pleased to have a break from the normal routine when she is hired to locate a missing person. Adin Brown, 17, has been missing for two days. His parents are very worried as this is out of character for Adin. The police may not be willing to investigate, but Billie is happy to take on the case. She and her assistant, Sam, a handsome war veteran, begin their investigation immediately.

When Billie gets her first big lead on the case and they go undercover to an exclusive club called The Dancers, the pace picks up. It is entertaining to read about how they pursue leads and handle different situations. Without a doubt, Billie is a fearless fashionista. You might picture her as one of the female stars of a noir movie from the 1940s but there is a key difference. Billie is more of a modern femme fatale. She is independent, intelligent and can hold her own against tough guys. Unlike a femme fatale of the 40s, she is not intent on seducing a man for his fortune. Her focus is on helping her clients and having a successful business.

We see Billie’s practical approach to life in descriptions about how a fashionista with a limited budget can still dress well. She is a wizard with a sewing machine and creative in adapting dress designs to support her occupation. She likes to ensure that she is able to run in a dress or that the strategic placement of pleats can conceal the bulge of her gun. Initially these descriptions are interesting but if fashion is not your thing, you may find yourself distracted by the attention it’s given.

In addition to trying to locate Adin, Billie is trying to help Shyla, a friend and informant. Shyla and her siblings were taken from their home as children by the Aborigines Welfare Board and sent to live in a children’s home run by Christian missionaries where Shyla trained as a domestic. She has concerns about a white man in the country who has hired four young girls from the children’s home. There is something off about the man. Even though he has a country property, there are no other people working there. The man travels back and forth to Sydney. Nobody knows what he is doing, nor have the girls been seen since they went to his place.

Once the characters are established, the fun begins and the action ramps up, pulling in other secondary characters. Billie’s mother, Baroness Ella and her maid Alma are a delight. There are fights with thugs, shoot outs and car chases. As you read the book, you will find it easy to visualise these scenes. All of the threads of the story weave together for a dramatic ending. You will want to know what the future holds for Billie. Fortunately, The War Widow is the first in a series. Tara has already written a second book, called The Ghosts of Paris.

Also see The Corpse with the Opal Fingers by Cathy Ace, for the Australian setting.

Verve Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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