The War Widow (aka Dead Man Switch) by Tara Moss, Review: Smart & sassy
Tara Moss’ new novel The War Widow (aka Dead Man Switch) is a brilliant start to what is sure to become a bestselling crime fiction series.
Meet PI Billie Walker – smart and sexy, with a dash of Mae West humour, she’s a hard-boiled detective with a twist. She’s a woman in a man’s world …
The War Widow (aka Dead Man Switch) Book Synopsis
Sydney, 1946. Billie Walker is living life on her own terms. World War II has left her bereaved, her photojournalist husband missing and presumed dead. Determined not to rely on any man for her future, she re-opens her late father’s detective agency.
Billie’s bread and butter is tailing cheating spouses – it’s easy, pays the bills and she has a knack for it. But her latest case, the disappearance of a young man, is not proving straightforward …
Soon Billie is up to her stylish collar in bad men, and not just the unfaithful kind – these are the murdering kind. Smugglers. Players. Gangsters. Billie and her loyal assistant must pit their wits against Sydney’s ruthless underworld and find the young man before it’s too late.
HarperCollins Australia – October 2019, ANZ & UK as Dead Man Switch; Published in Canada & United States as The War Widow
Genre: Historical, Crime-Detective, Thriller, Mystery, Drama, Action
Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
I loved Tara Moss’ Makedde Vanderwall PI crime series and wholeheartedly recommend it to those who enjoy feisty and intelligent leading ladies. Titles in that series reviewed on this website include Siren #5 (2009) and Assassin #6 (2012). Thankfully, Moss is back on the new release fiction lists with The War Widow /Dead Man Switch, the first in an exciting new historical PI series.
As a fan of Moss’ confident and engaging writing style, I had no doubt this novel would be great reading. But, the combination of vivid scene depiction, taut plotting, diverse and engaging characters and the exploration of meaty issues, made it so much more than that.
What’s not to love about Billie Walker?
The War Widow / Dead Man Switch leading lady Billie Walker is world-wise and resourceful; staunchly independent, sharp of mind and brave of heart. The perfect attributes for a PI.
‘… she felt quite buoyed untangling the pieces of this new puzzle. She liked puzzles. Particularly the paid kind.’
She’s experienced the best and worst of human nature first-hand as a war reporter in Europe, and returned with a heavy burden to carry and a hole in her heart, like so many others. But she has strong shoulders, a sewing machine and sensible footwear.
Billie never sacrificed mobility for style, just as she wouldn’t sacrifice style for much of anything. These were practical considerations, after all. If she didn’t look the part, she wouldn’t get far at their destination, and if she couldn’t get far in her shoes, she might miss some vital clues. She shared he mother’s belief that attractive shoes needn’t be ankle breaking.
She’s a girl to my own heart, swearing by the restorative powers of tea. And of course, if she needs them she’s got her pistol and her feminine wiles too.
But this lady is all class. And it is that true class and resilience that quickly earn her respect and loyalty from like-minded individuals, whether male or female.
In fact, one of the great delights in Dead Man Switch / The War Widow is the strength, diversity and dignity of its female characters. Not all play leading roles, but all have important parts to play. It showcases the often under-appreciated power of sisterhood.
In the real world, Tara Moss advocates for the rights of women. And, most importantly for me, is very clear to do so in a ‘non-man-hating’ way. She carries this through in her fiction, with the 1940s post-war setting of this series ripe for tension in respect to gender bias.
Of Billie walking into Sydney’s Central Police Station, a male domain in ‘her nipped suit with its relatively modest hem, her stacked-heel oxfords and seamed stockings’:
The stares at her back were as palpable as hands. She could almost smell the testosterone. Not a terrible scent, but certainly distinctive, and in this context, almost overpowering. This was what happened when you excluded an entire sex from a line of work for far too many decades, she supposed.
In The War Widow/Dead Man Switch, Billie’s open-mindedness shines through in ironic, philosophical observations… On the reaction she often got (from men and women) when she gave her title as Ms:
Strangely, with all that the war had taught the world about the inherent precariousness of life, such details seemed to have gained more, not less, prominence, as if the years of darkness had been prompted by a title, by a woman, rather than by Nationalsozialismus and the sinister edges of the Will to Power. It was part of a grasp for stability, Billie supposed, a nostalgic turning back to something ‘simpler’, more rigid and readily understood. But Billie didn’t want to turn back. That wasn’t her style. And besides, there was no undoing what the war had done.
Vivid depiction and pace
If not already evident from the quotes above, Moss’ has a real eye for ‘relevant’ detail. Her nuanced descriptions of characters’ physicality evoke tension and suspense – both dangerous and romantic. And, her research into that time period has yielded vivid, technicolour depiction of historical Sydney and Blue Mountain settings so often sepia-tinged. She even stumbles upon irony in the Australian bushland:
Turning and cutting a hand, she cursed the surrounding Acacia Horrida. Some genius had imported it, evidently unconvinced that Australia was insufficiently furnished with things that could claw, stab or bite you.
The War Widow / Dead Man Switch is a fast-paced, action-packed crime adventure that tackles serious societal issues; variants on which are equally topical today. It entertains while being a timely reminder to never forget what history has taught us.
After such a thrilling conclusion to this novel, I now eagerly await Book 2! Tara Moss’ smart and sassy heroine Billie Walker, and this new series that bears her name are set to become personal favourites.
BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4.75
Get your copy of The War Widow/Dead Man Switch from:
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I’ve since had the great pleasure of reading Book 2 in this series, The Ghosts of Paris.
What others are saying about The War Widow / Dead Man Switch
“The setting feels simultaneously familiar and exotic. Neatly incorporates history, social commentary, and a satisfying mystery in one appealing package. More, please!” – Kirkus Reviews
“An artful, original take on noir suspense that resonates in today’s times.”
—Fiona Davis, The Lions of Fifth Avenue
“Spirited…thoroughly researched and anchored by the spunky, sympathetic heroine at its heart….Readers will finish the book clamoring for Billie’s next case.” —Booklist
“A cracking thriller, with a marvellous, strong, flamboyant heroine.”—Joanne Harris, Chocolat
Listen to The Booktopian’s Podcast with Tara Moss on writing ‘Dead Man Switch / The War Widow’:
Source: The Booktopian
About the Author, Tara Moss
Tara Moss is an author, journalist, TV presenter and human rights advocate. Since 1999 she has written 10 bestselling books, published in 19 countries and 13 languages, including the acclaimed Mak Vanderwall crime fiction series and the Pandora English series. Her first non-fiction book, the critically acclaimed The Fictional Woman, was published in 2014 and became a number one national non-fiction bestseller.
She is a PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney, and has earned her private investigator credentials (Cert III) from the Australian Security Academy. Her non-fiction writing has appeared in The Australian Literary Review, Vogue, ELLE, The Australian Women’s Weekly, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, among other publications.
Moss is an outspoken advocate for the rights of women and children. She has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2007 and since 2013 UNICEF Australia’s National Ambassador for Child Survival, and has visited Australian hospitals, maternity wards and schools as well as Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon in her UNICEF role. In 2015 she became Patron of the Full Stop Foundation for Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, and received an Edna Ryan Award for her significant contribution to feminist debate, speaking out for women and children and inspiring others to challenge the status quo. Check out her website.
This review counts towards the Aussie Author Challenge 2019 and 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
* Receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.