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The War Widow
Billie Walker #1

BY Tara Moss

Dec 29, 2020/ ISBN 9780593182659
Historical Fiction/Mystery

Reviewed by Elise Cooper


The War Widow by Tara Moss brings into play the author's work as an advocate for women, children, and those with disabilities. Although there are feminist and social justice issues in the book, readers are not hit over the head, and there is no lack of adventure and action. Fans of Phryne Fisher will enjoy this novel.

The author noted, “loved Kerry Greenwood’s books. Phryne is such an iconic character who is also Australian. Unlike most fictional female detectives Billie and Phryne are not sleuths who were amateur detectives. The non-professionals are just busy body women who connected the dots. Unlike them, Phryne stood out for her day in the 1920s, Billie does it in the 1940s, both as professionals.”

There are similarities between the post WWI detective, Phryne, and Moss's post-WWII detective Billie. Both are strong, smart, funny, independent, and feminists. Included are their accessories, 'Fighting Red' lipstick, elegant clothes, and a little pearl-handled gun strapped to the thigh. The main character, Billie Walker, is a private inquiry agent, which is what private detectives were called at that time.

"I wrote Billie as a staunch feminist, fast driving, fast-talking, and a Nazi hunter. There is a social justice theme, but mainly Billie can be fun, playful, feisty, stylish, strong, brave, yet vulnerable. She never loses her sense of justice and can be very determined. Billie is as adept with a pistol as she is on the dance floor, haunted by a tragic past and unafraid to take on the darkest of foes. She was inspired by WWII photojournalist Lee Miller. Billie embodies her spirit. There was this period where women were encouraged to enter the war movement, to be more independent, and work in male-dominated occupations. Like Lee Miller, Billie is headstrong, athletic, and a risk-taker. Another influence was Nancy Wake, who received the top medal for bravery from the French government for being a resistance fighter and a spy. She would be dropped behind enemy lines with her red lipstick and a satin pillow. Then there was the real-life police detective Lillian Armfield, the first female detective in Australia."
World War II has just ended, and Billie is returning home to Sydney, Australia. Now 1946, she has saddened days, missing both her late father, taking over his PI agency, and her husband, Jack, a war correspondent missing in Europe.

"For me, any reference to WWII must include the Holocaust. I talked about Ravensbrück, where women were subjected to unspeakably inhumane conditions, with the majority unable to survive. I also want to show how the Germans stole valuables from the Jewish people and others, as well as the Nazi activity in Australia after the war. There is a book quote, "He was living on the final pieces of the broken lives of women and children he'd helped to murder.""

A new case has a German immigrant woman hiring Billie to find her missing son, Adin Brown. Clues lead to The Dancers, an elite club, and Georges Boucher, an expensive auction house owner. It seems that an old family photo of a particular necklace is at the heart of the case. After a potential source is murdered and an encounter with the police suggests they're on the take, Billie is forced to admit that she's dealing with something much larger than a simple missing person's case. She enlists the help of Detective Inspector Hank Cooper. At the same time, Billie's secret informant Shyla reports on a man in the country who has been mistreating girls.

Along with Billie, the supporting cast of characters are very likable and well developed. Her assistant-Secretary, Sam Baker, is a war veteran who has lost some of his fingers. He is entirely trustworthy, someone Billie can count on, and is not the least bit intimidated by a female boss.

Billie's mother, Ella, immigrated to Australia from Holland to be with her first husband, who cheated on her. She fell in love with the private investigator hired to find evidence of her first husband's infidelities. After having Billie out of wedlock, Ella told society where to stick to their expectations. Also, Shyla, an aboriginal, an informant for Billie, and somewhat of a friend, does not play to societal rules.

This is a very enjoyable read. The action never stops as Billie pursues Nazi war profiteers, shady mobsters, and cops on the take. It is a thrilling tale of courage and secrets that will keep readers wanting more Billie and company adventures.

Reviewed 2021