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Harry Duffin
Harry Duffin, author
Sixteen-year-old peasant girl, May Sharpe, steals from her abusive father, and flees Ireland, to chase her dream of a new life. Arriving penniless and friendless in 1919’s America, May has to choose between honest poverty, or crime. Beautiful May is charmed by successful con-man, ‘Society’ Eddie. With her new lover’s guidance, teenage May soon becomes the city’s ‘Queen of Crooks’. But Joe, a stubborn local cop, has fallen for the spirited May. He is determined to save her from herself, and having to spend her life in prison. In the midst of her glitzy life, he confronts May to make a decision; a decision which would threaten, not only her new-found fame and fortune, but her young life...
Award-winning British screenwriter Duffin (Coronation Street) transforms a naïve Irish lass into a cunning grifter in this enchanting historical caper. Sixteen-year-old May Sharpe escapes her abusive father in Ireland by hopping a ship to New York in 1919. Not wanting to be branded a thief for stealing his money for the voyage, she bypasses Ellis Island processing with the help of soldier Henry Rawls, just back from the Great War overseas. Innocent but comely, May is quickly noticed by local scallywag “Society Eddie” Young. Eddie and his girlfriend Alice train pretty girls to scam rich, gullible New York society men. Trouble ensues when Alice becomes jealous of May, Henry starts working for Eddie as a strike buster, and May comes to the unwanted attention of two of her recent marks: kindly neighborhood cop Joe Perski, who wants to make detective, and depraved Judge Bennett Palmer, who likes little girls and can be easily bribed. Both men vow to stop May from working her grift.

Duffin evokes a palpable sense of place in both the squalid life of the city’s poor and the opulence of the distracted elite. His dialog evinces Eddie’s street smarts and May’s Irish brogue, and he skillfully dramatizes May’s tangled life of crime. When things get too hot in New York, she convinces Eddie to run to Chicago with her, where after a bold diamond heist she declares herself “Chicago May.” Spurred by the 1920 vote for women’s suffrage, May realizes “more and more courageous women were making lives of their own, independent of both fathers, husbands or boyfriends.”

Duffin’s May comes across as less malicious than the historic figure who inspired her. Despite being a thief and a blackmailer, May proves endearing with her grit and drive, and fans of strong women protagonists and last-century crime stories will eagerly follow her adventures, which range from comic to thrilling to harrowing.

Takeaway: Readers will cheer on this Irish teenager who becomes a grifter queen in the roaring 1920s.

Great for fans of:Renee Rosen’s Dollface, Douglas Perry’s The Girls of Murder City.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A



Jim Hawkins


5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written

Verified Purchase

This story of how, behind apparent ignorance and vulnerability, a strong intellect and courage may lie is very well written. Harry Duffin's long experience as a screenwriter makes for vivid visual imagery, and a cast of strong characters, each well-defined and placed in this Jazz-age narrative, gives us an absorbing reading experience.

At times exciting, at times tender, at times shocking, it's also a great love story. For while you will think that we don't see enough of May's internal thoughts, but stick around - she's one hell of a woman.




Amazon Customer


5.0 out of 5 stars Superb read

The characters in 'Chicago May' come to life immediately, when you start reading the book. Harry Duffin captures the details of human interaction amazingly well. This book is right up there with the Penny Vincenzi's and Jodie Picoult's of this world for me. Could not put it down, just had to finish it!