Friday, January 11, 2013

Alice's Review: Parlor Games

Summary: 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.

Review:  When I think of the most dangerous woman in America, the last person I think about is a wannabe socialite from Menominee, Michigan.  But that is exactly what the Pinkerton Detective Agency dubbed our protagonist May Dugas.

Parlor Games is deliciously entertaining.  I really loved the cat and mouse game between May and Reed Doherty, the Pinkerton detective.  Just when I had forgotten about him, he would pop up to foil May’s plan once again.  I also loved reading May’s adventures.  She was quite the world traveler.  I loved her moxie and her opportunistic ways.  She never gave up and did what she had to in order to have a better life.  She was selfless in the way that these desires extended to her family as well.  She wanted a better life for them.  I think that is what I enjoyed the most about this novel.  May wasn’t this cunning dangerous woman, she was resourceful. 

Parlor Games has a wonderful cast of supporting characters.  I especially loved the spunky Daisy and May’s husband, the respected Dutch Baron Rudolph de Vries.  I love the stability the Baron offered May and Daisy was simply fantastic.  Daisy is the one character that made me wish Parlor Games wasn’t written in first person.  I would have loved to get inside Daisy’s head for a bit.  Maybe Ms. Biaggio will take the foundation of Daisy and write another novel based on her.  Yes, I would like that very much.

Ms. Biaggio is a gifted writer however there were times when the transition from scene to scene wasn’t smooth.  Also, the thing that wasn’t clear to me was May’s friendship with Frank.  Their first go-around was recounted thoroughly however their second attempt at a friendship was told through court testimony only.  I felt a little cheated.  I wanted to know May’s point of view and that lack of knowledge made it very difficult for me to side with her.  The author added much vivid detail yet at times, glazed over the minor things that would have really pulled the story together, mainly what exactly happened with May and Frank.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel up until the end.  I had rooted for May throughout Parlor Games but in the end, I was left shaking my head in wonder if she really was cunning and deceitful.  Maybe that is the point. Once May stopped talking and weaving a web of lies, all that is left is fact and truth.  And the truth is maybe the Pinkerton Detective Agency is right.

Final Take: 4/5



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