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Signed, Mata Hari

by Yannick Murphy

      Though based on real events from the life of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, Signed, Mata Hari is a fictional account of her life. She grew up in the Netherlands, abandoned by her father, and orphaned by her mother. This version of her life is narrated by Mata Hari from her cold Paris prison cell in October 1917, after she had been charged with being a double spy. Alternating chapters are told from other viewpoints. At 18 years old, she married a Dutch Naval officer who was much older than she, and they moved to Java. She had a son, Norman, and a daughter, Non, but she and her husband grew apart. Their son was poisoned by an angry servant, and then McLeod took Non and went back to Amsterdam. In this passionate story, I found myself sharing Margaretha's grief in losing both children.

Her life was difficult. There was never enough money to pay the lawyers to fight for custody of her daughter, and she had to re-invent herself several times. She called herself Mata Hari and became an exotic dancer with veils and beaded costumes, and became the courtesan of military officers, and the toast of Europe's elite.

She never thinks that she will be found guilty of being a spy against France because, in her own mind, she didn't do that. The penalty for espionage would be death by firing squad.

Mata Hari has always been one of my favorite historical characters, and Yannick Murphy has captured what I perceive as the very heart and soul of this fascinating woman. Her world was magical and romantic, and she was clever and cultured and was the essence of the mysterious femme fatale. We are left wondering if Mata Hari was really a spy, or simply a lonely, delusional woman longing for love and attention and set up as an example by the French court that tried her.

Yannick Murphy's lyrical prose brought Mata Hari's voice through loud and clear, and I devoured it in two sittings. There have been many stories written about Mata Hari, but this is one of the best I have read.

The Book

Little Brown / Hachette Group
November 14, 2007
0-316-11264-X / 978-0-316-11264-2
Fiction / Historical
More at
NOTE: E - Explicit sexual scenes

The Reviewer

Beverly J. Rowe
Reviewed 2007
© 2007