The real May Dugas will go down in history as a notorious con artist. But I think the fictional May Dugas in Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio will go down as a very misunderstood woman. She didn't steal from men, they liked giving her nice things. She didn't run from the law, she was just securing a higher status for herself in society. The Pinkerton detective chasing her has it all wrong!!
The first chapter asks you to be the judge. The first chapter and beyond puts you inside the head of May Dugas. The first chapter opens in 1917 with her civil trial for fraud. Her former friend Frank Shaver claims May conned her out of large sums of money. As the book progress, we alternate between the trial and the past. We learn how May Dugas came from humble beginnings, and slowly turned into a crafty social climber.
The fictional May Dugas wanted excitement, romance, money, and a higher social status -- something that just wasn't available in her small town of Menominee, Michigan. She quickly attached herself to the wealthiest man in town, but he was a little too tame for her tastes. Ok, so she faked a pregnancy. But she did leave town to spare poor Robby's heart and reputation. She had his best interests at heart. She went off to Chicago in search of a better life. Ok, so she kept taking Robby's money and pretended to still be pregnant. She never expected him to show up in Chicago. He was supposed to be getting on with his life, not pining away for her. Ok, so she started "working" at a fancy whorehouse, it was just to pay the bills and maybe meet a handsome rich guy. Robby was crushed when he learned May wasn't pregnant, but hey it isn't like she didn't try to warn him off. She was trying to be honest mixed with a little dishonesty, if that makes sense.
Robby wasn't worth her time anyway. A bigger fish named Dale Andrews has caught her eye anyway. Ok, she wasn't honest about what she did for a living. She was trying to spare him the embarrassment. Ok, she got caught up in a fraudulent stock scheme. She was setup I tell you!! She was setup!! I was on May's side, but who is going to believe her? Her fiance Dale and his rich daddy sure didn't. May almost had a little piece of happiness, but Pinkerton detective Reed Dougherty put a stop to it. But May was not about to be outdone. Ok, so she blackmailed Dale's father into giving her money. It was so she could leave town without tarnishing the good name of the Andrews family. So what that she had to leave Chicago, there are plenty of other rich...I mean nice men out there for May.
May can find a man anywhere. Milwaukee, San Francisco, Shanghai, Hong Kong, London, and New York are all full of rich...I mean nice men out there for May. It was in Tokyo where May met and fell in love with Johnny Graham. Ok, so she was on the run from authorities in San Francisco. But they were looking for a woman named Pauline or was it....Oh I can't remember May Dugas had so many alias I can't keep them straight. She wasn't being dishonest. She changed her name to give herself a fresh start. Johnny Graham should have been her fresh start. I was truly on their side. Yes, Johnny came from a wealthy family, but it truly didn't seem to be about the money this time. If only that nosy Reed Dougherty could mind his own business. He truly ruined May's chance at true love.
The trial with Frank is a bit of a joke to me. How can a lawyer like Frank claim to have been swindled. Nobody forced her to give May money. Nobody forced May to give Frank extravagant gifts. They were friends. They confided in each other. Sometimes they were a little bit more than "friends." But this is the early 1900s people, so we won't talk about that. Shhhhhhh!!! Two women having romantic feelings for each other in the 1900s is the big elephant in the room. But Maryka Biaggio handles that part with a lot of grace.
I wanted to believe in the good in May. But it was kind of hard to after reading the last chapter. Has she truly learned anything, or will the cycle always continue? I don't know if the real May Dugas was such a complicated character, but the fictional character was a joy to read about. When the book was over, I just wanted more, and I think other readers will, too.
Rating: O.M.G. !!!
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Doubleday) as part of a blog tour with Authors On The Web