As the enigmatic Mata Hari awaits her fate in a grim Parisian prison in 1917, she is visited by a reporter determined to peel away the opaque layers that have shrouded her in intrigue and mystery. Accused of espionage and treason, the notorious exotic dancer recalls her hardscrabble back story, including her interrupted childhood, her disastrous marriage to an abusive alcoholic, and her heart-wrenching abandonment of her young daughter. By interweaving the strands of Mata Hari’s multiple reinventions into an evocative tapestry depicting the woman who captured the collective imagination of several nations, the author ensures that questions of her guilt or innocence ultimately take a back seat to her mesmerizing tale. Moran (The Rebel Queen, 2015) breathes new life into another atrophied legend of a remarkable woman who left an indelible mark upon her time and place in history.
Moran’s latest historical novel (after Rebel Queen) portrays the life of the enigmatic and infamous Mata Hari (1876–1917). The narrative follows Hari’s rise to fame as a dancer and courtesan, the decline of her career, and her fall from grace as she is accused of espionage during World War I. Interspersed throughout are glimpses of the figure behind the façade—Margaretha Zelle MacLeod, a young Dutch woman escaping a bad marriage and a painful past by reinventing herself. Even amid the glamour and fame she can’t quite overcome the abandonment and hurt caused by her father or the sorrow at her own separation from her daughter. Was Hari really a German spy or a tragic victim of circumstance and her own bad decisions? Hari is a mysterious character, but Moran manages to formulate a realistic heroine. At once worldly and naïve, this version of Hari evokes both sympathy and frustration. She is portrayed with depth, yet she also seems to lack intelligence and relies too much on men and her own charms to get by. VERDICT: Readers of historical fiction will note the author’s signature attention to detail; however, the flawed Hari makes this engrossing reading. –Christina Thurairatnam, Holmes Cty. Dist. P.L., Millersburg, OH