This is a spoiler-free review.
The War Widow by Tara Moss
Expected publication December 29th 2020 by Dutton Books.
The war may be officially over, but journalist Billie Walker’s search for a missing young immigrant 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 secrets set in glamorous postwar Sydney.
Sydney, 1946. 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 in Europe of her husband, Jack. To make matters worse, now that the war is over, the newspapers are sidelining her reporting talents to prioritize jobs for returning soldiers. But Billie is a survivor and she’s determined to take control of her own future. So she reopens her late father’s business, a 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 up into the highest levels of Sydney society and down into its underworld. What is the young man’s connection to an exclusive dance club and a high class auction house? When the people Billie questions about the young man start to turn up dead, Billie is thrown into the path of Detective Inspector Hank Cooper. Will he take her seriously or will he just get in her way? As the danger mounts and Billie realizes that much more than one young man’s life is at stake, it becomes clear that though the war was won, it is far from over.
Content Warnings: violence, death, torture, mistreatment of underage girls
Thank you to the publisher, Penguin Group Dutton, for providing me with an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
“But then, what was the fun in doing or being what was expected?”
Billie Walker could hardly be described as doing – or being – what is “expected” for a typical Australian woman in 1946. A war reporter during the Second World War, Billie has now returned to Sydney, Australia, having lost both her father – due to his ill health – and her husband, Jack. Jack is missing, and presumed dead, making Billie and unofficial “war widow.” Being all on her own, and her mother’s fortune dwindling in the post-wartime, Billie takes over her late father’s business, a private investigation agency, and is determined to make a name for herself.
But when Billie is hired to find a missing teenager, Adin Brown, the job winds up being much more complicated than her typical cheating-husband-recon cases. Tie in her complicated relationship with the police force, a Detective Hank Cooper in particular, and her promises to help her friend/informant Shyla protect young indigenous girls from a sketchy man known solely by the name “Frank”, things become even more tangled. And Billie may just find herself in over her head…
I’ll start by saying there were a lot of things about this story that I really LOVED. In particular, I really enjoyed Billie Walker’s character. She’s feisty, confident and self-assured. She’s also incredibly independent, I would argue even by today’s standards, let alone when comparing her to the typical woman from the 1940s. But she’s by no means unladylike. Yes, she smokes, she swears and she carries a firearm. But she always remembers to re-apply her lipstick after a cigarette, and carries her Colt fashionably by attaching it to her garter. 👠💄💋
She’s the perfect character to lead a historical mystery series set in the 1940s given the historical relevance that time period has for the women’s movement and the impacts that a post-WW-II world had on the daily lives of women around the globe. A fact Moss makes clear is certainly on Billie’s mind.
The relevant research Moss has done is utterly evident almost immediately after starting this book. Billie’s story is filled with historical references and commentary. And despite the main character herself living in the 1940s, her views on many things, the freedoms of women in particular, are so contemporary, that it’s not difficult for a modern reader to relate to her instantaneously.
Without a character like Billie at the helm, I don’t think this story would have been able to keep my interest as well as it did. I, unfortunately, found the plot a little too long and complicated to really love it as much as I wanted to. The prose was just too detailed most of the time, which took me out of the action more than was preferable. And I felt as though the story lagged unnecessarily more than once, making some plot points feel repetitive.
The ending was surprisingly abrupt for a story that took what felt like a very long time to get to that point. I wound up feeling a little unsatisfied that the story wasn’t as cleanly and elaborately concluded the same way the rest of the story had been described up until that exact moment.
Nevertheless I found this story a generally compelling first instalment for a new historical mystery series and was attached enough to the colourful cast of characters that I’m very much looking forward to the next Billie Walker novel to see where their story will go. ❤️
Do you want to read this book?
What’s your favorite historical mystery book/series?