Today we are really pleased to welcome bestselling author, Tara Moss, to Alternative-Read.com
The War Widow by Tara Moss brings into play the author’s own 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.
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, what private detectives were called at that time.
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.
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, owner of an expensive auction house. 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 likeable and well developed. Her assistant-Secretary, Sam Baker, is a war veteran who has lost some of his fingers. He is completely 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 their expectations. Also, someone who does not play to societal rules is Shyla, an aboriginal, an informant for Billie and somewhat of a friend.
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 for more adventures of Billie and company.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Tara Moss: I wanted to write a book that created a fresh female detective perspective. I did not want to write one that was either pigeon-holed, or a Femme Fatale.
EC: Were you influenced by Phryne Fisher?
TM: I 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.
EC: How would you describe Billie Walker?
TM: 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.
EC: Was Billie’s character influenced by any real-life figures?
TM: Yes. 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 head strong, 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.
EC: There are also references to the Holocaust?
TM: 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.” I do not think I could write about the WWII period and its aftermath without talking about the Holocaust. Billie has a backstory where she had firsthand experience seeing Anti-Semitism in Vienna. This will be an ongoing element throughout the series.
EC: It appears there is a love triangle between Billie, Sam, Hank, and Jack?
TM: I like to create sexual tension. Sam, her assistant, is very attractive and looks like Alan Ladd. He must overcome his disability of losing fingers in the war. His gloved hand shows his vulnerability. Hank is a classic inspector-detective who holds his cards close to his chest. Jack, was her equal, is now her missing husband, and presumed dead. This has Billie questioning her own status. Readers will find out more as the series goes along.
EC: You have people refer to her as “Ms,” but I thought that title came years later?
TM: Yes, it was not taken up more broadly until the 1970s. But I do refer in the book to a New York Times Article when it first appeared. “But every time someone referred to Billie as “Mrs.” it reminded her of the uncertainty of her personal life. It re- minded her of loss and set her on edge. “Miss” wasn’t quite right either, she felt, and she could hardly be called that after all that had happened, including a wartime wedding albeit a makeshift one with no ring and few witnesses. In the end she had requested “Ms.,” the term sitting better. She had seen it mentioned in a New York Times article some years previous and it would later suit her.”
EC: Fashion attire was also detailed in the book?
TM: I think clothing, shoes, and hats say something about a person wearing them. A PI observes, knowing someone with new looking shoes or clothes can probably pay the bill. I am fascinated by the textile connection.
EC: Can you give a shout out about your next book?
TM: There is not a title yet and no publishing date. So far there is a three-book deal for the series. So, the adventures of Billie will continue.
If you liked this interview
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.