The Jacq of Spades: The Red Dog Conspiracy, Volume 1 (Unabridged)
by Patricia Loofbourrow
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In a far future US, the once-beautiful domed neo-Victorian city of Bridges is split between four crime families in an uneasy cease-fire. With social disparity increasing and its steam-driven infrastructure failing, a new faction is on the rise: the Red Dogs. Jacqueline Spadros has a dream life: a wealthy husband, a powerful family. But her life is not what it seems. Kidnapped from her mother's brothel and forced to marry, the murder of her best friend Air 10 years before haunts her nightmares. She finds moments of freedom in a small-time private-eye business, which she hides in fear of her sadistic father-in-law. Air's little brother disappears off his back porch and the Red Dogs are framed for it. With the help of a mysterious gentleman investigator hired by the Red Dogs to learn the truth, Jacqui pushes her abilities to their limits in hope of rescuing the child before the kidnapper disposes of him.
certainly wasn't predictable, which was a big plus
In 1899, four crime families - the Spadros, Diamonds, Hearts and Clubbs - rule the domed city of Bridges, which is divided into four quadrants accordingly. The city is characterized by social and class divisions and growing social discontent. A new group, the Red Dogs, has appeared. The protagonist, Jacqueline, grew up in the poorest part of the city. Her mother was a prostitute, her father sold Jacqueline to be married to Tony Spadros, the son and heir of one of the leaders of the city. The Spadros family is heavily involved in the production of 'Party Time', an illegal drug.
This is the first book in the Red Dog Conspiracy series, and as with many first in a series, a lot of characters and numerous storylines are introduced. The main one here is the disappearance of a young boy. Jacqui, who secretly works as a private investigator, becomes involved in the search for the boy, as he is the little brother of her deceased childhood friend whose death Jacqui is still trying to come to terms with.
Initially, I found it difficult to get into the story. The action takes off right from the start without much of an introduction to the world it is set in. With the (for me) unusual setting, the numerous characters and the various subplots, there was so much going on, it was a little confusing at times.
I was wishing I had the eBook as a companion, to sometimes go back a page or two, to look up names, to work out who is who. The story is told from Jacqui's first-person perspective with occasional flashbacks to her youth. I wasn't sure I liked Jacqui to start with. She is still yearning for her childhood love, while "working" her marriage as best as she can. She doesn't love her husband, but she doesn't hate him either. Her relationship with her father-in-law, who is a really nasty piece of work, is filled with hatred and distrust. However, Jacqui grew on me with time. She is having a difficult time maneuvering between her past as a poor, helpless woman and her elevated status as the wife of an influential man, where she has to fulfill certain expectations. The author has created an interesting and unusual protagonist, which I found quite intriguing. She is a strong heroine but also very vulnerable.
The story certainly wasn't predictable, which was a big plus. While the mystery of the missing boy is solved, the book left me with more questions than answers at the end of it. There was a thread regarding the inventors each of the crime families have and the problematic nature of the power resources sustaining their world. This was left unresolved undoubtedly to be picked up in the second book. I also wanted to find out more about several of the other characters (e.g. Joseph, Blaze, Black Jack) and their relationship with Jacqui. So I guess if you want the full picture, you need to be prepared to follow this up with the next book in the series, The Queen of Diamonds, to be published in October 2016.
It took me a little while to get used to the narration. The voice artist has a very distinctive voice. There were times where I wished I could more clearly distinguish between the different characters, which was down to my overall confusion with the sheer amount of people involved in the story. The production quality was ok. There were several instances where it was possible to detect where the narrator had paused and then re-started recording again. But it was a minor distraction.
You don't need to be a major fan of steampunk novels to enjoy this. I think it would appeal to any listeners who enjoy mysteries with a historical element and/or a strong female heroine.
Audiobook was provided for review by the author.
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