A sweeping historical novel about a beautiful con artist whose turn-of-the-century escapades take her around the world as she's doggedly pursued by a Pinkerton Agency detective.
The novel opens in 1917 with our cunning protagonist, May Dugas, standing trial for extortion. As the trial unfolds, May tells her version of events.
In 1887, at the tender age of eighteen, May ventures to Chicago in hopes of earning enough money to support her family. Circumstances force her to take up residence at the city's most infamous bordello, but May soon learns to employ her considerable feminine wiles to extract not only sidelong looks but also large sums of money from the men she encounters. Insinuating herself into Chicago's high society, May lands a well-to-do fiancé - until, that is, a Pinkerton Agency detective named Reed Doherty intervenes and summarily foils the engagement.
Unflappable May quickly rebounds, elevating seduction and social climbing to an art form as she travels the world, eventually marrying a wealthy Dutch Baron. Unfortunately, Reed Doherty is never far behind and continues to track May in a delicious cat-and-mouse game as the newly-minted Baroness's misadventures take her from San Francisco to Shanghai to London and points in between.
The Pinkerton Agency really did dub May the "Most Dangerous Woman," branding her a crafty blackmailer and ruthless seductress. To many, though, she was the most glamorous woman to grace high society. Was the real May Dugas a cold-hearted swindler or simply a resourceful provider for her poor family?
As the narrative bounces back and forth between the trial taking place in 1917 and May's devious but undeniably entertaining path to the courtroom - hoodwinking and waltzing her way through the gilded age and into the twentieth century - we're left to ponder her guilt as we move closer to finding out what fate ultimately has in store for our irresistible adventuress.
"Sheer, frenetic fun." - Booklist
"May's seductions and schemes begin to feel a tad repetitive, and the frequently interspersed and overlong courtroom scenes relegate both her and Doherty to the role of spectator, thereby losing the energy gained elsewhere from their entertaining interactions." - Library Journal
"Based on a true story, Biaggio's narrative provides an engaging glimpse into a character who categorically eludes our attempts to define her." - Kirkus
"Parlor Games is a captivating tale narrated by the irresistible and deliciously unreliable con-woman, May Dugas. Her escapades, which span the Gilded Age right through the turn-of-the-century, immediately transport the reader to a bygone era. It's a wildly entertaining and constantly surprising ride." - Daisy Goodwin, author of the New York Times bestseller American Heiress
"Come meet May Dugas, a con artist of the highest order. You'll be swept up by her delicious voice from the first page of Parlor Games, so prepare to be joyously fleeced. This jaunty tale through the life of a woman who keeps one step ahead of a dogged Pinkerton agent of the law is a true pleasure, something like munching your way through a box of chocolates all by yourself. Curl up and settle in for a lovely read." - Kate Alcott, author of the New York Times bestseller The Dressmaker
"Like Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair before her, May Dugas--delightfully unrepentant - charms with tantalizing glimpses of her con games as she cheats her way from poverty into opulence." - Eva Stachniak, the author of The Winter Palace
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Rated of 5
Elizabeth (Liz) Klein
Great setting, flawed character, good reading
Since I'm from the Midwest and have lived in Chicago and Wisconsin, I found the setting of Parlor Games of special interest. I had a little trouble getting into this book at the beginning, because I found the character hard to like. That feeling continued until the end, but the author's writing style and the historical setting and the research it displayed kept me going. Since this story is based on a real person, the character flaws are not something created by the author. I'd like to see her write a future book about a woman (or man) with a more admirable nature.
Rated of 5
A delightful surprise of a book!
I totally enjoyed reading this book! It's a sly and witty story of a charming woman who is actually a con artist and perhaps almost a bordeline person in her morals. I couldn't put this book down and read in all day so that I could finish it since it was so engrossing. May Dugas was an actual person but this is a partially fictionalized historical novel. If you like vicariously living a unique woman's life of indulging her whims and staying ahead of the law again and again, then you will certainly enjoy reading it.
From the Author:
"I am a former psychology professor turned novelist with a passion for history. Twenty-eight years after launching my academic career I took the leap from full-time academic to scrambling writer and now split my time between fiction writing and higher education consulting work. To hone my writing I attended myriad workshops, searched out some excellent mentors, and read all manner of books on the craft of fiction. Doubleday is publishing my debut novel, Parlor Games, in January 2013. It was hard work getting to this point, but I don't regret a minute of all those years of labor.
My fiction has won Willamette Writers and Belles Lettres awards. I pride myself on crafting carefully researched and realistic fiction. I travel extensively, am an avid opera fan, and enjoy gardening, art films, and, of course, great fiction. I live in Portland, Oregon, that edgy green gem of the Pacific Northwest. "
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