The Ace of Clubs is the third book in the Red Dog Conspiracy and a very complicated novel for oh so many reasons. If you haven’t read the series, be aware there will be spoilers not for this book but for the ones previous to some degree so choose whether to read on with that awareness.
When I first finished the book, I thought I didn’t like it, but while I’d like to have seen Jacqui take a more active role at times, it took a bit to realize my issue wasn’t with the book at all. The series is a futuristic steampunk, noir, crime family epic with all the Dickens elements I adore of privilege, underclasses, and society running at multiple levels often oblivious of each other to some extent. The characters are nuanced and complicated. They don’t always make the right choices (or sometimes ever) and seem a little too willing to sacrifice others in the name of themselves, but what’s key is they are true to their own character, consistent in their inconsistencies, and often enough infuriating in their decisions.
The Ace of Clubs is very true to these parts, especially Jacqui’s lack of control over her life and the consequences her hidden rebellion enact on the lives of those around her. Sure, the main story focuses on the inquest into the destruction of the zeppelin, but it’s what the inquest brings into the open that forms the heart of the novel. This is a story of betrayals, both those known and unknown. It raises questions of duty when the target of that duty is innocent and not the one who forced Jacqui into the situation, but he is the one harmed should she reject her unwilling duty.
Jacqui seems to realize how her choices harm those around her at times but then doesn’t change her behavior always, so there’s the hint at growth to come, but she’s not there yet. Still, some of her actions now incorporate this understanding, like when she tells Tony the truth about her investigations so no one else will suffer for her. She’s not a perfect person, nor would I want her to be, but I do appreciate the times when she looks beyond her own selfish needs. Her work with the inventor is in the same line. Yes, it would help her as well, but it helps all of them.
Again, I selfishly wanted more of the story focused on the inventors, but that series thread does advance as well, equally as seeped in the clash of the different crime families. There is a lot of manipulation and double-speak throughout, clouding motivations and goals under a mist filled with violence. The history revealed in The Alcatraz Coup also has significance.
Jacqui’s motivations cut to the core of why my first reaction was angst, again a symptom of strong characters that have engaged me to the extent of frustration because I don’t support what they are doing at this point. Basically, Jacqui’s main actions, as you might have suspected from The Queen of Diamonds, involve her childhood love Joe. Whether it’s because I see Tony as an innocent (in a manner of speaking), or because I’m right, I don’t trust Joe. I find him disruptive, and his timing is all too suspicious. The risks he encourages Jacqui to take knowing the nature of her father-in-law’s interest are not those driven by a definition of love I appreciate. That said, neither Joe nor Jacqui act in an unbelievable way, just not how I would wish them to. It’s odd for someone so mixed up in conniving as Jacqui is to be so trusting, but she does trust Joe, and on too slim a history to my mind. It makes her less honest, even with herself, and harsher than the intrepid investigator we first met in Jacq of Spades, but that doesn’t mean the development is unwarranted.
Ultimately, Ace of Clubs is true to the series. It focuses on some of my least favorite parts so far, but considering the amount of thought and attention the story drew from me, it’s the characters I’m frustrated with rather than the story. I’m still looking forward to seeing how the pieces come together. What happens with Joe may be a deciding factor in my following through the whole series (an odd comment once you’ve read the book, but I have my reasons), but for the time being, I’m still sucked in and would feel the pain of threads left untied should I stop now.
P.S. I received an ARC from the author in return for an honest review…and have purchased my own copy.