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ParlorGamesReviewed by A.D. Cole

Born in Fox River, Illinois and then raised in Menominee, Michigan, May Dugas quickly realizes she’s meant for more than small-town living. She attributes her ability to manipulate men to her dearly departed father who helped her to an occasional glimpse of the high-life whenever possible. At the age of eighteen, May hitches a ride, on her lover’s generous allowance, to Chicago, where she then works her way out of the relationship. This lover is the first of many casualties in May’s path to success.

Chicago proves difficult to conquer, however, and May opts to work in a bordello. True it is the finest bordello in the city, but May makes use of it only until she’s able to establish some high-society contacts. At last she manages to attract the notice of a bank owner’s son and extricate a proposal of marriage from him. At this point, she experiences her first encounter with the man who would be a thorn in her side for decades to come: Pinkerton detective, Reed Dougherty.

After Dougherty thwarts her engagement, May flees Chicago and embarks on a series of adventures–some profitable, some portentous. Along the way she uses her considerable charms to dazzle and manipulate, always able to land a man willing to spend his money on her. Though she does justice to her mother, sending money back home whenever possible, her methods of obtaining these funds are decidedly shady.

Parlor Games is a historical novel based on the real adventures of May Dugas, a compelling anti-heroine whom the Pinkerton agency dubbed “a most dangerous woman.” Told in first person narrative, the story jumps back and forth from May’s trial in 1917, to the road that led her there. This storytelling method makes for good pacing. The dual stories are brought together masterfully, in the end. The novel is well-researched with generous sprinklings of cultural references to anchor the setting.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. May is at some times despicable and at others, surprisingly human. Her perspective is necessarily biased, but it doesn’t prevent you from seeing the story clearly. The moment Detective Dougherty is brought on the scene, the story elevates from interesting to all-out fun. I suppose the detective was my favorite character because you never knew when he was going to make a grand entrance and throw a wrench into May’s well-laid plans. If I have a complaint, it’s only that we don’t get the detective’s perspective. But this in no way diminishes the quality of the novel.

I most definitely recommend this novel. For lovers of historical fiction or mystery adventures, this is a must-read. The setting is authentic, the characters well-drawn, the landscape diverse and the plot evenly paced. A nicely done debut.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Doubleday. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.a Rafflecopter giveaway