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 18, 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’ 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 20th 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.
"An engaging glimpse into a character, who categorically eludes our attempts to define her." (Kirkus Reviews)
"This double-stranded narrative bounces back and forth between the extortion trial of turn-of-the-century con artist May Dugas and the international escapades that led to her arrest. Basing her novel loosely on a real-life figure, the woman the venerable Pinkerton Agency once dubbed the "Most Dangerous Woman", Biaggio re-creates the deliciously fabulous foibles and follies of a woman born into hardscrabble circumstances but determined to make her way in the world with wit, beauty, and a brazen ability to exploit her feminine charms for a very high price. Whether one admires or reviles May, theres no doubt that she [Biaggio] makes the most of every entertaining opportunity - and, hey, a girl's gotta make a living, especially with a particularly persistent Pinkerton detective hot on her heels. Sheer, frenetic fun." (Booklist)
"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 best seller American Heiress)
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She's irredeemable, but you might like her anyway.
I listened to it while I was at work - my job allows me to do such things - and I can't say there was something I would rather have been listening to. It was a nice distraction from the mundanity, but I wouldn't have listened to it on my own time.
I would have made May a little more dastardly, a little more compelling. You don't have any particular sympathy for her - and I would've fleshed out Frank a little more, made that story longer. As it stands, the trial was most of what we got with her and it was relatively dull otherwise. I would've made Frank more of a partner-in-crime.
I also would've done a little more research on the pricing of jewellery in the era - a $4,000 black pearl brooch versus a $7,000 yellow diamond necklace? Doesn't quite match up.
I have not, but I'm inclined to check into her other books.
It did not, unfortunately, inspire me to go shopping for vintage clothing.
- Erin - Audible
Just say no.