The War Widow by Tara Moss is a historical fiction noir detective story set in Sydney in 1946. The titular character is Billie Walker, a private investigator, who is glamorous, a feminist, and is equally comfortable confronting criminals and dancing at a club. The novel focuses on how Billie tracks the son of European immigrants who own a fur shop and how that is connected to an auction house and a high-end dance club. Billie also tries to help Shyla, a young woman of the Wiradjuri, find her older brothers who were separated in childhood to be trained as helpers in White society.
Billie was a journalist and her husband was a photographer in the war. Jack disappears during the war and Billie returns as a widow. Widows were an object of pity and a threat that was looking for a husband. Billie is neither. She is also unconventional in her choice of career that is male-dominated, has strange hours, and strange clients. Her assistant, Sam, is a war veteran and is perfectly fine with taking orders from Billie and standing up for her. Billie’s mother is a widow and very interesting. Shyla’s background and present show the fate of the Aboriginal Australian people at the hands of the government.
The plot follows Billie taking the case of Adin Brown, the son of European immigrants who came to Australia for a fresh start. Adin’s missing and Billie tries to find him with the help of Sam. There is action, suspense, car-chases, and an excellent atmosphere of post-war Sydney. There is also a contrast between pre-war and post-war Australia, differences in class, and a gap in economic positions as shown in Billie’s family before and after the war. The story paints a picture of the war as well as how the consequences of war are played in the present.
I enjoyed this book simply because of Billie. She’s smart, resourceful, glamorous, righteous, and a feminist. Billie stands up to the men who would rather have a conversation with Sam, than her. Sam is also a wonderful partner and ally to Billie. If you want to read about a fearless and awesome private investigator, if you like Australia, and like the mystery noir genre, then this book is an excellent read.