Dames for Hire is a prequel spin-off of the Bubbles in Space series by S.C. Jensen. Bubbles in Space is a Neo-Noir thriller series set in HoloCity, a cyberpunk dystopia. Without spoiling, her private eye career takes something of a sideline to larger events so this seems to be based on the kind of cases she took before the first book. In other words, the main series is cyberpunk adventure while this is more detective series. I’m entirely cool with that.
In this book, a rich client comes to Bubbles looking to have someone rubbed out in order to protect his daughter from being taken advantage of. Bubbles isn’t into contract murder but agrees to investigate the potential target for the good of the customer’s stepdaughter. What follows is a story of sex, gambling, inheritance, and Bubbles trying to do a job she is uniquely unqualified for. The ending is also a classic “locked room” with the killers that I loved the update to.
The appeal of this book is that it manages to do what the main series was unable to do and keep a focus on the detective fiction element of Bubbles’ story. Bubbles is a somewhat questionably skilled investigator as she’s frequently distracted by her own troubles as well as lacking in the hyper-observation that other fictional detectives possess. This is an interesting twist as Bubbles upfront and somewhat bumbling nature frequently leads her enemies to overestimate her throughout the book. This results in them leading a trail right back to their doorsteps.
Bubbles is an exceptionally likeable character with a sarcastic and everywoman quality to her. She doesn’t want to be involved with a client whose first response to a situation is to have his daughter’s girlfriend rubbed out. However, Bubbles is running low on funds and her client is her best friend’s boss. She thinks she can navigate things and keep the bloodshed to a minimum but Bubbles is never quite as on top of things like she wants to be. This makes the story dynamic and fairly unpredictable.
HoloCity is a delightfully sleazy place without ever going over PG-13 in terms of sex or violence. S.C. Jensen does a great job of using 1930s lingo in the future to give it an “off” feel while also filling its wealthy classes with every manner or perversion but letting the reader figure out just what it means. It was a bit like trying to adapt The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep during the era of the Hayes Code as both films are based on books that are gritty as hell. The cyberpunk element adds a fun veneer of futurism to very familiar tropes of crime bosses, greed, addiction, and questionably trustworthy lovers.
I’m a great believer that detective fiction and cyberpunk go together like peanut butter and jelly so this is a combination that was straight up my alley. Unfortunately, I will say the book is a bit on the short side with only a little over 144 pages. The price is reasonable with $2.99 for a direct purchase and also availability on Kindle Unlimited. Still, I think the story could have been expanded to two hundred pages easily enough. I understand this is going to be a series around Bubbles’ cases so its compact self-contained size makes sense.
So, definitely recommended.