Mata Hari’s Last Dance

Written by Michelle Moran
Review by J. Lynn Else

In this latest novel by one of my favorite authors, Michelle Moran shakes off her familiar plot design (humble main character, ruthless antagonist, a noble leader the main character supports, and epic historical backdrops) while sensitively fictionalizing the life of exotic dancer Mata Hari. Readers will discover a woman who, after escaping from a brutal husband, reinvents herself through dance. Born Margaretha Zelle, after moving to France in 1904, Margaretha becomes “the Star of the East,” Mata Hari, and quickly rises to stardom. But as Mata Hari tries to keep her past a secret, particularly the daughter she was forced to leave behind, she pushes away the one man who genuinely cares about her. Thus, Mata Hari becomes her own antagonist, and her inability to see beyond the fictional life she has created when war breaks out across Europe leads to her ultimate demise.

Moran masterfully weaves together Mata Hari’s past and present life in this well-researched story. Our main character does not have much development until near the end; however, as bits and pieces of Mata Hari’s past are revealed, the strength and vulnerability of this character drive the story forward. I would like to thank Moran for not going into explicit detail regarding Mata Hari’s promiscuity. It would have been easy to give her life an erotic focus, but Moran centers on the woman who overcame hardship and had to live through the tension of WWI. While she is at times naïve and selfish, I still found myself rooting for Mata Hari.

Moran fans will find less exploration of time and character in this book versus her earlier works. However, there is still a strong emotional undercurrent in the life of this unfairly judged woman who escaped the horrors of life through dance. This is a satisfying, albeit short, read. Recommended.