About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran – Historical Errors

Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran – Normally I try not to get caught in up in historical errors I might notice in a book but there were several in Mata Hari’s Last Dance that startled me and affected my reading of the book. As it is a work of historical fiction I expect basic facts to be accurate.

I was surprised when Mata Hari took up with a French officer in 1904 and he was described as a member of the French Air Force. Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic first flight in 1903. Even without looking up that the French Air Force was founded in 1909 as a part of the French Army it should have been clear he could not have been an air force officer.

The first airplane flight in Europe was in 1906 by Alberto Santos-Dumont:

     Following his pioneering work in airships, Santos-Dumont
     constructed a heavier-than-air aircraft, the 14-bis. On 23    
     October 1906 he flew this to make the first powered heavier
     -than-air flight in Europe to be certified by the Aéro Club de
     France and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

In the book Mata Hari is in Berlin, in the company of a German general, when they hear the announcement of World War I on the radio. It appeared to be commercial radio. I was not aware of any radio broadcasts to the public anywhere in 1914. A search in Google provided a Wikipedia entry that:

     The first radio station in Germany went on the air in Berlin in
     late 1923, using the call letters "LP." Before 1933, German radio
     broadcasting was Conducted by 10 regional broadcasting
     monopolies, each of which had a government representative on
     its board.

The next surprise was Mata Hari visiting an American military hospital in France in 1915.  I would say it is common knowledge that America only entered World War I in 1917.

The Office of Medical History in the U.S. Army Medical Department website sets out the establishment of the first American Army hospital in France in 1918:

     Base Hospital No. 1 was organized in September, 1916, at the
     Bellevue Hospital, New York City. The unit was mobilized on
     November 21, 1917, at the 12th Regiment Armory, New York
     City, where it remained in training until February 26, 1918, on
     which date it left New York on the Olympic, arriving in
     Liverpool, England, March 6, 1918. It left Liverpool March 6
     for Southampton, England, where officers and enlisted men
     remained in the rest camp for three days prior to crossing to Le
     Havre, France, March 10, 1918. It left Le Havre March 11 en
     route to Vichy, Department Allier, in the intermediate section,
     A. E. F., where it arrived March 12, 1918. Upon arrival at Vichy
     Base Hospital No. 1 took possession of nine hotels that had been
     used by the French as hospitals since 1914, and on March 20,
     1918, reported that the hospital was ready to receive patients.
     The first patients, 252 French wounded, arrived on April 9, and
     the first American patients, 358 in number, were admitted April
     11, 1918.

Most glaring of all was the statement that Mata Hari and her last
great love, Vadime de Masloff, a Russian flier for the French Air Force, were going to fly to New York City to begin a new life together in 1916.

The first trans-Atlantic flight was in 1919 by John Alcock and Arthur Brown. The first commercial flight was made in 1938 from Berlin to New York City.

These historic inaccuracies were jarring to me. Even before looking up the details I knew they could not be right.

I do not understand why the author was so careless. None of them mattered for the plot. Each could easily have been handled correctly without damaging the narrative.

As an example, Mata Hari and her lover could have been taking the first ship out of France for North America that carried civilian passengers.

These errors did lead me to wonder how accurate her descriptions of Mata Hari’s life were in the book. I can appreciate authors adjusting facts for fiction with regard to personal lives. My quick review of Mata Hari’s life would say Moran was much more accurate with regard to Mata Hari.

I am left more puzzled by her attention to detail in the life of her main character and a lack of basic fact checking in the balance of the book.

When I look at her errors I it appears Moran was using facts from World War II and placing them in World War I.

I do appreciate authors who do not distract me with basic errors.


  1. Aauugh! Factual errors in books, a pet peeve of mine, too.

    I proofread so I notice everything. I actually correct typos or wrong grammar in library books (yes, I do), but factual and historical errors. That's a no.

    I'd get in touch with the publisher and/or author. I've done that myself.

    I just saw a book in the NYT Book Review on a publisher's advertising page. A word was misspelled on the book's cover. I couldn't believe it.

    Publishers trying to put out books quickly and with less staff to fact-check, copyedit and proofread. Not a good thing.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. "Aauugh!" is well put. I will be sending copies of my posts on the book to the publisher.

  2. I know exactly what you mean, Bill, about factual errors. It's not that difficult, especially with today's technology, to get basic facts of history right. And as you say, that accuracy doesn't have to change the story's plot. In fact, it likely would have enhanced it. It's so frustrating when it seems that the author, or editor, or someone, isn't doing that basic check for accuracy.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Whatever the reason and whoever did not fact check it is disappointing to see basic errors.

  3. There was undoubtedly at least one American field hospital in France in 1915. It was founded for French soldiers by Mary Borden, whose poetry and stories of WWI have recently been revived and republished. There may have been others.
    One of Borden's later novels may interest you: Action for Slander is about just that.

    1. Anonymous: While I do not usually respond to anonymous comments I appreciate your comment. I had not heard about Mary Borden. I shall be looking her up.