To read at your leisure, first lines of Signed, Mata Hari, the new and third novel by Yannick Murphy, spinning a fresh look into the woman who continues to intrigue and seduce. If this mesmerising first paragraph doesn’t hypnotise you, I’m not sure what will.

“I cheated death. I walked across the sea. When the tide was low I went over the furrowed sandbanks in my small bare feet. I skipped school one day and traveled to an island near my home called Ameland. I had heard stories, every child who lived in the Netherlands knew the stories, about the mud like quicksand and about the water like a great gray wall when the tide came in and how it could catch you and knock you down and pour into your mouth and drown you so that you couldn’t ever return, no matter how hard you tried to climb out of the mud like quicksand and over the great gray wall. But I returned. I went back to the nuns, who had been tolling the bells, looking for me. When they found me they showed me their palms, raw from pulling the bell’s rope, and they took me to the headmistress for punishment. Walking to her chambers I whispered proudly into the black folds of their habits. I have walked across the sea. Later my whispers came out as the nuns knelt for Mass, released like cold air once trapped in a cellar, now mixing with their prayers.”

Murphy’s essay on her book is also available to read at Powells.

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