It is 1947, and in Europe both victors and vanquished struggle to rebuild shattered lives, towns, cities and democracy itself. Although nearly 30,000 Australian servicemen lost their lives, their homeland remained physically untouched. Former war reporter Billie Walker has set up as a private investigator in Sydney and, with her assistant Sam, is making a decent go of things, but their cases are very parochial and largely mundane. Then everything changes. She accepts a case to investigate the disappearance of Richard Montgomery, last heard of in London, and possibly Paris.
This book is full of interesting historical detail, some of which was new to me. For example, I never knew that flights between Australia and Britain at the time were often made in hastily converted Lancaster bombers, renamed ‘Lancastrians’. Billie and Sam, aboard one of these lumbering giants, take three days to reach London, and when their hearing and sleep patterns have returned to normal, they begin their investigation.
It soon becomes clear that the Richard Montgomery’s London trail has gone cold, and so the pair move to Paris where, from their luxurious HQ of the Paris Ritz they start to make enquiries. At this point, some of the back-story needs telling. Billie Walker was once married to Jack Rake, another war reporter and photographer, but in the vicious chaos that was wartime Central Europe, they became separated. Jack was last heard of in Poland but Billie has had no communication of any kind from him since then, and she fears he is dead. Back in Australia, on an earlier investigation, Billie had accidentally uncovered part of the ODESSA network. This had nothing to do with the Black Sea port, but was an acronym for Organisation Der Ehemaligen Ss-angehörigen, a highly secret group dedicated to smuggling as many former SS men out from under the noses of the Allies as possible. The encounter pitted Billie against one of the most vicious former Nazis in the organisation. She brought about his downfall, but ODESSA have neither forgotten nor forgiven.
Billie Walker is an admirably resilient and resourceful investigator, and Tara Moss tells a tale that gallops along at a cracking pace, and includes a very cinematic scene where Billie fights for her life on very rickety scaffolding high up on the wall of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, with Le Stryge (above) gazing impassively at the struggle. The Ghosts of Paris is published by Dutton (an imprint of the Penguin Group) and is available now.
Author Tara Moss (right) has a pretty impressive CV. She holds joint citizenship of Canada and Australia, and is an international advocate for human rights, particularly those of women and children. She is renowned for researching the physical action in her novels, and this has included shooting firearms, being set on fire, being choked unconscious by Ultimate Fighter ‘Big’ John McCarthy, flying with the Royal Australian Air Force, spending time in morgues and courtrooms and obtaining a licence as a private investigator. She has also been a race car driver (CAMS), and holds a motorcycle licence and a wildlife/snake-handling licence.