Australian Billie Walker is a survivor. As a newspaper reporter during World War II, she tempted danger but came out alive. She had a whirlwind courtship with a fellow writer, Jack Rake, followed by a quick wedding. When Jack took on a perilous assignment in Poland, he disappeared. After Bille’s frantic efforts to find him failed, she returned to Australia and reopened the detective agency once run by her late father, Barry, a former police officer. As an inquiry agent (the term private investigator is not allowed in Australia), Bille’s bread and butter, like her father’s, involves tracking down missing husbands. The irony is not lost on Billie since she still herself also has a missing husband.
Vera Montgomery, based on her appearance, can easily afford Billie’s services. Over a cup of tea, she tells Billie her husband, Robert, has been missing for two years. A talented photographer, Robert was in London and then Paris helping to set up a special exposition to celebrate Australia. During his absence, Vera has been well provided for, something she attributes to income from Robert’s wealthy family. (Billie will later discover that Robert’s family has disinherited him and the funds given to Vera come from, not his photography business, but from one of his illegal enterprises.)
Billie and her assistant, Samuel Baker, travel to London on a Lancaster plane used mostly to transport mail. The trip – from Sydney, to Darwin, to Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Lydda, Castel Benito, and finally London – is noisy and uncomfortable. After three days, they arrive at the Strand Palace, tired and disheveled. But after a few days rest, with fresh clothes and a touch up with her Tussy’s Fighting Red lipstick, Billie is ready to get serious about her assignment.
At the Australia House, populated by government officials and diplomats, Billie is unable to hold back when several high level executives talk about the Nazis in favorable terms. Basil Aldrich’s comments are nothing short of racist, something Billie feels quite keenly because of her friendship with Shyla, a young indigenous woman who often helps with the agency’s inquiries. Billie counters Basil’s disparaging comments, but by doing so, she’s put a target on her back. The Nazi Billie helped to capture was able to come to Sydney because someone, possibly someone in Australia House, supplied him with forged documents. The person who did that could be arrested and hanged.
Billie is warned that those after her won’t stop until she’s dead. Billie, however, believes she is being paid to find a missing husband and, even if she must dodge a bullet or two, nothing will prevent her from solving her case.
Vera suggested that Billie visit one of her friends, Mrs. Caversham-Smithe, whose family occupies an English country estate outside of London. While the home matriarch won’t say anything about Montgomery, her daughter, Jane, sneaks out of the mansion to meet Billie and Samual at Sally Lunn’s in Bath. The young woman, obviously still traumatized about her encounters with Montgomery, confirms Billie’s suspicions about the many secrets the photographer was hiding.
Meanwhile back in Sydney, Shyla and Billie’s mother, Baroness Ella von Hooft, deal with brake-ins at Billie’s apartment and office. At the office, Shyla disturbed the intruder and managed to stab him with a letter opener. Fearful of the police, she goes to Ella’s apartment and the older women calls the police and takes blame (credit?) for the stabbing. Turns out the assailant is one of Billie’s father’s old enemies, Vincenzo Moretti, who during the war worked with Nazis.
With nothing more to be discovered in London, Billie and Samuel leave for Paris. Billie expects the city will bring back unpleasant war memories, beautiful recollections of times with Jack, and pain that her beloved husband is most likely dead. But when she receives a letter from another writer, Simone, who reported on the war alongside Jack and Billie, she’s stunned. Simone claims to have seen Jack in a Paris hotel and believes he’s alive. Now Billie is searching for two husbands, Vera’s and her own.
The War Widow introduced Billie and The Ghosts of Paris continues her story. Billie is smart and resourceful and truly ahead of her time. (Were women even asking to be addressed as Ms. in the 1940s?) Tara Moss does her research and her descriptions of a post-war London and Paris ring true. A major development could take Billie into another direction in the next book. But we guess that war and Nazis will still figure prominently in the plot.
The Ghosts of Paris
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