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Review & ***GIVEAWAY***: Dead Man Switch by Tara Moss

Dead Man Switch (Billie Walker Mystery #1)
Tara Moss
Harper Collins AUS
2019, 368p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

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 …

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.

This new series from prolific Canadian-Australian author Tara Moss is set in Sydney in 1946, right in the fallout of the Second World War. Those that survived are returning home and walking straight back into jobs that women took over during the war. Women are expected to head back to the home and the kitchen now that the men have returned, although Billie Walker isn’t one of those. The daughter of an ex-cop and former Private Investigator, Billie worked as a journalist overseas during the war and now that she’s back in Sydney, she’s opened her father’s former office and is working as a PI herself. Infidelity cases are mostly how she keeps her head above water but then she gets an interesting assignment about the disappearance of a young man, a boy almost really.

Everything Tara Moss does is meticulously researched and I’ve read a lot about what she put herself through to authentically write the Makedde Vanderwall books. This probably involved less trauma but the streets of 1946 Sydney and its surrounds feel very real. I enjoyed Billie as a character – it feels as though she’s had an interesting life but one that is not without its tragedy. She lost her father, obviously a very important and admired influence in her life. During the war she was lucky enough to fall in love amidst all that horror but now her photojournalist husband Jack is missing, believed to be dead. Nothing has been heard from him in the longest time and Billie is struggling with that. She’s being urged to move on, especially from her mother but it’s not that easy. She doesn’t have any definitive proof that Jack is dead, apart from the fact that no one has heard from him and the war has been over for a while now. I think there’s always hope when there isn’t proof and maybe Billie feels he’ll come striding down the street toward her one day. At the same time, she’s also a realist and if that has not happened already in this time since the war ended, it probably isn’t likely to.

I really enjoyed the mystery element to the novel. Billie is fun to observe doing her job and I love her assistant Sam, who has layers and layers to explore there. There’s a police detective who has all the possibilities of being someone interesting as well. Billie has a lot of hidden talent and depth and she does occasionally I think, take all of that and put herself into situations she should definitely not. Sometimes it’s much better to wait for back up, or the novels tend to stray into this varieties where the main characters end up being far too capable to really be believable but also you feel that they might be a bit thick for continuously believing themselves able to do the things on their own that really only a team of experts should be taking on.

I think that the story went in a really interesting direction and it’s not something I’ve really thought about much before in connection with Australia. Definitely in stories of post-WWII Europe and even places like South America, where it’s well known that a lot of Nazis fled to escape prosecution but I haven’t really read many books that involve Australia in this way so it felt fresh and well written. What started as a seemingly innocuous disappearance of a teenage boy, who might’ve found a girlfriend his parents wouldn’t approve of or been on a bender with some mates escalated in some really unexpected and intriguing ways and Billie put the pieces together really well. There are some truly chilling scenes in this book as well, definitely the one where Billie sleeps (or is more like unconscious) through something. But even in a fog, she can think really quickly and has good instincts on what is going to come next and how it’s going to affect her and how she can manoeuvre to get herself out of such situations.

All in all, this was a promising start to a new series and quite a few things about it have me intrigued and interested to read more. I definitely hope there’s more about Jack, Billie’s missing husband in the future. I am also interested in the progression of her working relationship with Sam and perhaps also a mutually beneficial working relationship with the police detective. I’m definitely interested to read the next book and see where it goes from here.


Book #188 of 2019

Dead Man Switch is the 71st book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019.


Thank you to the fabulous people at Harper Collins for providing me with 2 copies of Dead Man Switch in order to give away! To enter, simply click the link below and fill out the form with your name, email and postcode. Due to restrictions, this giveaway is open to Australian residents only. Thanks for your understanding. Entries will remain open until 28th November with winners contacted by December 1 2019.

Enter here



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Fetish – Tara Moss

Makedde Vanderwall is beautiful. The Canadian born model has relied on her tall, blonde curvaceous looks for over ten year now. She’s approaching the end of her modelling career, being a grand old 25yrs of age so she’s making the most of it while she can. A proud Australian size 10 with no starving herself going on here, she flies into Sydney to visit with her friend Cassandra, a fellow Canadian model working down under for a little while. Cassandra is a childhood friend, someone Mak knew when she was just a little girl and took under her wing, especially when Cassandra started modelling. She’s like family and Mak is very much looking forward to seeing her and escaping to Australia for some much needed down time after a slight stalker incident in Canada. Mak is surprised when Cassandra doesn’t meet her at the airport but Mak has been to Sydney before so she takes a taxi to Cassandra’s place, arranges a spare key to be delivered to her from the modelling agency and makes herself at home in the spartan apartment. She knows that Cassandra has a lover who she is very secretive about – someone Mak assumes is probably much older than the 19yo Cassandra and most likely, very married. So Mak isn’t that worried at first when Cassandra doesn’t return to the apartment that night, or return any messages. She goes out to her first Australian assignment, a swimwear shoot on a beach. Mak is taking a break to answer a call of nature when she makes a shocking and horrific discovery – the beaten, bloody, mutilated body of a woman. And the woman is Cassandra.

Women in Sydney are being stalked by a killer. Nicknamed the Stiletto Murders, for the murderer’s habit of picking women wearing stilettos and taking one, leaving the victim wearing only one shoe, he has struck several times before Cassandra already. Mak meets Detective Andy Flynn, the homicide cop in charge of the case and although attracted to him, is less than impressed by the way he dismisses some information that she gives him, about Cassandra’s lover. The two clash about the case more than once, especially Mak’s desire to assist the investigation and insert herself into it. Mak, back in Canada, is using her modelling money to pay her way through a forensic psychology degree and although not qualified yet, she certainly seems to think that she deserves to be involved. Her father was also a cop and this further enforces her belief that she understands what is going on and should be kept in the loop on everything. Detective Flynn doesn’t agree – and although the sparks are flying between them, so are the misunderstandings.

Then Detective Flynn is implicated when his ex-wife, with whom he is going through a very acrimonious divorce, becomes a victim. Was she targeted because of her relationship with Flynn? Or did Flynn murder her himself, making it look like a Stiletto Murders case? Detective Flynn disappears, leaving behind a lot of suspicion and a lot of unanswered questions for Mak. But she’s got other issues. The killer is fixed on her now and she’s going to be his most perfect victim yet.

This is Tara Moss’ first full-length novel. She holds duel Canadian-Australian citizenships, spends a lot of time in both countries and is a tall, statuesque blonde model? Sound familiar? They say write what you know and Moss has clearly adopted quite a bit of that philosophy, fashioning in a modelling world into a gruesome crime novel. She’s apparently very dedicated in her research, holds a PI license and has explored many avenues quite thoroughly and it shows in her writing. The novel was possessed of a good plot, well paced and expertly drawn out and I enjoyed the read thoroughly. There were only a few quibbles, one of which (some niggling grammatical issues and flat dialogue at times)  I think will disappear as Moss grows more confident in writing and in the series – I’ve already heard from various sources that her writing strengthens with each novel.

The other quibble – Mak is tough and likable and not a sort of dithering model stereotype, but she was frustrating in her expectation to be included in everything. She suffered from ‘All about me’ syndrome, aka ‘I can do it, don’t underestimate me’ disease – quite common in crime novels with female protagonists. Often they’re cops that go into dangerous situations without back up, or women who work in other areas such as forensic pathology (Scarpetta, Brennan, etc) who get involved in unlikely avenues of crime solving. And then go into dangerous situations without back up. Mak was a random off the street, halfway through a forensic psychology degree who seemed to think that she was well experienced enough to be told everything about the case just because she knew a victim and got mighty uppity whenever Flynn refused to tell her anything. Which, because she was beautiful and he was attracted to her, wasn’t that often. But if he dared not jump when she gave him something she thought was relevant, or if he dared not immediately spill his guts on the ins and outs of the case when she asked, she really went into a bit of a strop that was really quite childish. And you’d think that as the daughter of a cop, she would know that discussing the details like that is not acceptable. I also found it totally far-fetched that Mak would discover the body of her friend in a city of four million or so people, less than 24 hours after arriving into the country.

But apart from that, Fetish was a promising debut crime novel from Moss. Her expert research and ability to craft a story made for an interesting and engrossing read. She gave you just enough detail to be satisfactorily creeped out by the killer but not too much so that you were wading in gore and psychopathic mind wanderings. I liked Flynn and I hope that he turns up in future books. The setting also contributed to some of my enjoyment of this book – I love Sydney. It’s my favourite city. Although I was born there, I spent my childhood and teen years growing up else where and returned there to go to University. I miss it a lot now that I’m living in Victoria and love to visit it for holidays and in literature.


Book #121 of 2010