The first book in an alternate reality noir mystery series.

Publication year: 2015
Format: ebook
Publisher: Red Dog Press
Page count: 243 at GoodReads

In an alternate USA, four big families rule the city of Bridges. The city has been divided into four quadrants, each ruled by one family, and it’s very difficult to move from one quadrant to the other. The families are Spadros, Clubb, Hart, and Diamond.

Jacqueline was born in a whore house to the madam. She was also a member of a kid gang. When she was twelve her best friend, Air, was shot and she still has nightmares about it. She grew up not knowing who her father was, until one day he appeared. He had made a deal with the Spadros. Jacq was to be the bride of the Spadros heir. Despite being a “Pot rag”, as the very poorest are called, she was trained to be a lady and married Tony Spadros. Except that Jacq loved someone else and never saw him again after she was promised to Spadros. Roy Spadros, the head of the family, is a ruthless, cruel man who delights in torture and beating his wife. But Tony is different. He’s still a man who has spent his whole life in luxury, wanting for nothing. But he’s usually not cruel, only when it serves a purpose. He orders men killed when that’s required but not tortured. And he loves Jacq. Jacq has learned to pretend love but has never forgotten her only love, Joe. She also knows that if something would happen to Tony, she would be thrown back to the streets. So, in secret from Tony she has her own business as an investigator. It doesn’t make much money but she saves what she can.

The story starts when a woman calls Jacq for help. The woman is Air’s mother. Her youngest son is missing and nearby is the mark of the Red Dog Gang. Jacq refuses to help at first but the case won’t leave her alone: she can’t allow the little boy to just vanish. When the little boy’s older brother is found strangled in another quadrant, Jacq knows that she must investigate. But she has troubles of her own: she must support Tony or someone could murder him. She must keep her investigations a secret from him because it would ruin their delicate relationship. She must also keep her investigations a secret from everyone else who could ruin her life.

Jacq has a lot of contacts around the Spadros area, some of whom know who she is and others don’t. She uses a lot of disguises and lies. The story has a lot of characters, as well. Jacq herself is a tough and determined woman but she’s in a very vulnerable position and she also has hard time letting of the past, her childhood friend’s death and her first love. So, she’s also a vulnerable character.

The story is told from Jacq’s first person POV. Since she was born poor and then rose to the elite (although unwillingly) she has a different perspective than many of the other wealthy people. The story touches on the disenfranchisement of the poor, class struggles, and women’s rights, which are, sadly, still ongoing issues today.

The start of the story dropped us readers right in the middle of the story. Explanations came later mostly through Jacq’s thoughts. For the most part, this worked well and I enjoyed the story. Jacq is a very interesting character and her dilemma drew me in. The book is labeled as steampunk but there are very few steampunk elements in the story.

At the end, the current case is resolved (kind of) but the larger mysteries remain. We also get a timeline of this alternate history and a list of characters at the end.

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