The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to present a guest post by Maryka Biaggio, author of Parlor Games.
A Story I Didn’t Tell
Considered a scandalous woman of the Gilded Age, May Dugas had many adventures—and run-ins with the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency. I couldn’t possibly fit all of her escapades into my novel, Parlor Games, but I do have a particular favorite among the untold stories. Here May puts her unique skills to good use and keeps a mother and her children together.
When a good friend of May, a Mrs. Hanna, decided to take her three children abroad for an educational tour, her ex-husband secured two court orders forbidding this travel. Defying his wishes, Mrs. Hanna stole away from Cleveland with the children. Mr. Hanna uncovered her plot to spirit the children to New York City and sail from there. He hired the Pinkertons to help him intercept her.
Mrs. Hanna’s pursuers learned she was staying at the Savoy Hotel in New York and surrounded the hotel to prevent her escape. Then they received a tip: Mrs. Hanna had managed to sail earlier that day on the Menominee. Mr. Hanna and his Pinkerton cohorts rushed to the pier and discovered that the passenger list of the departed ship did not include the Hanna clan. But one other ship, the Campania, was scheduled to depart later that day, and when they discovered Mrs. Hanna’s trunks had been loaded onto it, they boarded the ship and undertook a search.
Upon reviewing the ship’s list they found that Mrs. Hanna’s name had been recorded but crossed out. They asked the Captain about this. All he would say is that she was no longer on the list and, furthermore, he was far too busy to stop and talk to them about the ship’s passengers. The Hanna family was in fact on board, and the Pinkertons even identified the rooms they were likely hiding in. But the cabins were locked, and they couldn’t force entry into the rooms of a ship sailing under the British flag.
May Dugas, however, was also on board, and when Mr. Hanna discovered her on deck he summoned the detectives, knowing she was a friend of his wife. He and the detectives queried her: “Is Mrs. Hanna on board?”
“If she is, I do not know it,” she replied.
“Did she sail on the Menominee while booking her baggage on the Campania?”
Carefully choosing her words, May said, “If Mrs. Hanna has left America by now, she must have left on the Menominee.”
The interrogators then asked May if she had concocted the scheme to get Mrs. Hanna’s children out of her husband’s reach, to which May responded, “I am not at liberty to say, for Mrs. Hanna is my friend.”
They had no choice but to leave the ship and watch it sail away.
Then they started wondering if or how Mrs. Hanna could have eluded their watch at the Savoy. They returned and interrogated the staff. There were two possibilities: Either they had been smuggled out in laundry baskets or had exited via a backside passage that took them through several shops before opening onto Fifty-ninth Street. But the hotel staff they questioned steadfastly declined to reveal how they had escaped under the watchful eyes of the Pinkertons.
And that is how the adventure ended. Not only had May succeeded in helping Mrs. Hanna and her children gain passage undetected on the Campania, but she had also assisted her friend—who was handicapped by an arm in a sling and had three sons aged seven, eleven, and thirteen in tow—escape from the Savoy Hotel while it was surrounded by Pinkerton detectives. That May: She was a clever one! I hope you’ll get to know her better when you read Parlor Games.
About Parlor Games
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.
About the Author
Maryka Biaggio is a former psychology professor turned novelist with a passion for history. Twenty-eight years after launching her academic career she took the leap from full-time academic to scrambling writer and now splits her time between fiction writing and higher education consulting work. More information about Maryka and Parlor Games can be found on MarykaBiaggio.com, including a discussion guide, historical information, recommended reading, and a fun “Parlor Talk” feature. You can also find out more about Parlor Games on Facebook.