Indie author Patricia Loofbourrow offers The Jacq of Spades (The Red Dog Conspiracy) (Volume 1) as part 1 of a series she describes as “steampunk neo-noir,” which is a new genre for me. Like many of the books I’ve read recently, it’s a self-published debut novel and I’d say it falls about in the middle of the pack for me. The book takes place in the fictional city of Bridges, which is split into four sections, each “governed” by a crime family. The protagonist, Jacqueline Spadros, is the seemingly well-off and glamorous wife of a family heir but actually lives a restricted life under the microscopic watch of her father-in-law, who kidnapped her from “the pit” to marry his son. We see Jacqui manage her small-time private eye business as she investigates the disappearance of her deceased best friend’s little brother. As she investigates she becomes embroiled in a growing conspiracy in which a new gang, the Red Dogs, are framed for the kidnapping.
The story is engaging, as are the main characters as we follow their emotional growth. The story takes place against a backdrop of failed governance, powerful criminal enterprises, social and class divisions, and underlying social discontent with the status quo. As a former student of a sociology-based criminal justice program, I found some of the social, legal, and criminal discussions interesting and mostly on target. Ultimately, though, the story is an engaging mystery. I looked forward to reading it in the evening, and I still sometimes think about the characters, which means the author crafted a compelling story.
There were a couple of significant drawbacks for me, though. Firstly, there were occasions throughout the book where I just wasn’t sure I was following all the elements of the story correctly. Loofbourrow uses a sort of “flashback” technique, where we see instances from Jacqui’s past in italics. Through those flashbacks, we slowly piece together her history and how she got to her current position. On occasion I felt like those flashbacks were more confusing than enlightening, but the issue mostly sorts itself out by the end of the book. Secondly, I was dissatisfied by the end of the book because I felt like things were left unresolved. That may have been on purpose, though, since the book is designed to be the first in a series. I would assume that reading the second book, when it comes out, will shed more light on those unresolved elements.
Jacq of Spades is the first book with dark themes that I have read in a long time, because I intentionally avoided such stories for the past many years; I typically don’t like how I feel after reading about evil. I was generally entertained by the book despite the violence and dark themes, but I can’t say I learned anything from the story, which is my usual criterion for reading. I’m on the fence about whether I plan to read part 2, but I’ll probably be swayed in favor by my desire to find out what happens!
My star rating: 3 stars
Buy the book: The Jacq of Spades (The Red Dog Conspiracy) (Volume 1)
Author webpage: http://www.pattyloof.com/blog/
**Thank you to author Patricia Loofbourrow for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.