Parlor Games

Written by Maryka Biaggio
Review by Marina Maxwell

Mae West once quipped that “good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere,” and this other May (Dugas) sure is one bad girl who goes everywhere.

In 1917, while on trial in her hometown of Menominee, Michigan, in a civil case for money owing to a former female companion, May tells her life story in flashback. The novel opens strongly with promise of an enjoyable romp as she dupes the gullible and wangles her way out of scrapes while dodging a Pinkerton man on her trail. From brothels in Chicago and San Francisco under various aliases she weaves her fraudulent way across the world: Shanghai, Tokyo, London, Monte Carlo.

But en route, the tale begins to flag. Suckering money out of her victims is May’s main goal, but she is too contradictory. She proves herself exceedingly smart at financial wheeling and dealing with a fondness for the racy life yet falls into domestic boredom with dull or controlling men, not least her Dutch baron husband.

Although the dialogue really sparkles in places, the narrative is let down by flat passages of description. Given that seduction is May’s prime weapon, the bedroom scenes seem rather too coy, and you have to reach your own conclusions about her sexuality. The dreaded Pinkerton man also pops up on more than one occasion to scuttle her chances of true love.

If May had a couple of redeeming features or even a touch more wit, eventually I might have warmed to her, but by the conclusion of the interminable trial, I couldn’t care less whether or not she received her just deserts. And don’t get suckered in either, like I did, by the novel’s cover, as this action takes place in a very different era and many decades before the fashion styles shown.