Friday, September 3, 2010

‘Missing Mabel’ by Nancy Mehl – Book Review

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I always love it when I am exposed to an author with whom I had previously been unaware. Such is the case with the author of the latest book on my list – Nancy Mehl and her newest novel, ‘Missing Mabel.’

Here is the synopsis of this entertaining novel:
Watch the tangled mess a Kansas hairdresser gets herself into when she reports to the funeral home that the body she is to work on is not the same as in her reference photo. Is she being punished when the director accuses her of stealing a diamond ring? Will Hilde Higgins’s former boyfriend help her unravel the issue or only bring more trouble to her life?                  

Here is the biography of this author:

Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband, Norman, and her son, Danny. She’s authored nine books and is currently at work on two new series for Barbour Publishing.
All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch—something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “It’s a part of me and of everything I think or do. God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan especially for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”

Hilde’s mother, a neurosurgeon, was a little alarmed at the career path that her daughter took:         

I glanced at my watch. I was supposed to meet my mother at one o’clock. Just enough time to do Mabel’s hair and get to the restaurant. Lunch with Mother. Not something I looked forward to. My mother still couldn’t understand why I’d left college to go to beauty school and ended up working on “dead people’s hair, for crying out loud.” Mom is a successful neurosurgeon who is absolutely horrified by my career choice. I’d tried once to explain to her how it happened, but her dazed look told me that she was either taking a quick, open-eyed nap, or she was thinking about the next skull she planned to crack open. At least we were both concentrating on the same end of the body. (pp. 10-11)

Hilde described her first encounter with the dearly departed:     

Assuming I was fired, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. However, that was followed by a rush of terror when I understood that I was being sent to a local funeral home to fix the hair of a recently departed patron. The family insisted that their dear mother’s hair be styled by the same salon that had been taking care of her for years. Surprisingly, no one else wanted to go. Feeling that my career, such as it was, was hanging by a thread, I drove to The Sweet Slumberland Funeral Home, shaking like a leaf. I was scared stiff (no pun intended) as I was led down the hall to my client. But once we were alone, something happened to me. I felt a real peace in that room, and before long, Gertrude’s hair was beautifully coiffed. (pp. 11-12)

Hilde considered her job to be a ministry calling: 

I grabbed a pair of surgical gloves from my kit and pulled them on. Then I prayed. I always pray before starting my work. I ask for God’s help to honor the person entrusted to my care. I also pray for the family. It helps me feel like I’m a part of their healing process instead of a stranger who is intruding in their time of grief. (p. 21)

This book is surprisingly comical! Never having read any of Nancy’s books before, I was not expecting that. Here’s an example – Hilde explaining what her mother thinks of the church she is now attending:

My mother was still reeling from my decision to leave the church she’d brought me up in. I call it the “church of the frozen chosen.” My new church home is more contemporary and expressive. Mother refers to it as “that happy clappy church.” I don’t really mind. We do clap, and I am really happy there. (p. 39)

Hilde is deeply committed to Jesus. Here is an exchange between her and her best friend, Paula, who had recently embraced New Age teachings:   

She pulled her hand away and sat back in her seat. Her eyes narrowed. “Sorry. I’ve seen your God. He’s too judgmental. I could never be what He wants me to be.”
I smiled and shook my head. “He knows that, Paula. That’s why He doesn’t ask you to change. He simply asks that you let Him inside so He can do the changing.” I could tell from the way her body stiffened that I was going too far. “All right. I’ll stop. But just remember what I told you. God loves you completely—without reservation. He’s the father you’ve always wanted—and more. I should know. My father took off a long time ago with his girlfriend, and he’s never cared enough in all these years to contact me or pay one penny of child support. But my heavenly Father was there all the time, loving me and taking care of me. And He’s waiting for you to give Him a chance. Any time.” I grinned at her. “And it just so happens that I love you, too, you goofy nut.” (p. 97)

Another acquaintance of Hilde’s is the seventy year old gentleman across the street, Gabe Bashevis. They had established a relationship of friendship and trust over tea and dinner. Hilde decided she wanted to share one of her favorite food staples with him:     

I looked at my watch. “I need to get going. How about dinner tonight? I’ll fix something and bring it over about six?” I had no intention of telling him that he would be the recipient of one of my famous SPAM dishes. I found it was always better to let people taste it before telling them what it was. So far I’d never had anyone complain. (p. 129)

The main mystery in this suspenseful book is that Hilde is concerned that one of the dearly departed whose hair she styled was not the woman she had initially seen. Her sense of duty compelled her to tell the family of her concerns:

“Sorry.” My stomach felt tight. On the way to Willowbrook, I’d been relieved, since I planned to hand this whole mess over to Mabel’s family. However, the reality of telling them that their late loved one had turned up “missing in action” seemed to be losing its appeal. How would they take it? First their aunt dies. Then she’s toasted. Now some strange girl with a purple streak in her hair tells them their dear, dead aunt has actually disappeared and no one knows just where she is. Walking away and minding my own business began to look like a pretty good alternative. But I couldn’t do it. Mabel deserved better than that. (p. 133)

One more person of interest in Hilde’s life is Adam Sawyer, a childhood friend who had recently come back into her life. He seemed to have his priorities in order, as he explained when they were headed out to a secret destination:

“I don’t ever want my career to take over my life,” he said. “My dad worked hard to support us, but I would have traded time with him for almost any of the things he provided for us. Our pastor talks a lot about setting priorities. God first, family second, ministry third, and job fourth. I’m trying to get my ducks in a row now so I won’t have a problem when I get married someday.” He looked over at me and smiled. “I guess what you’ll see today is the ministry part of my life.” (p. 187)

And here’s another example of his faith:
“You know, my mother always prayed for me before she gave me any medication. She believes it’s important that we never put ourselves at the mercy of men’s solutions to God’s answers.”
I smiled at him even though it hurt. “I love that, Adam. Would you like to pray for me?”
He nodded, closed his eyes, and put his hand on my shoulder. “God, we thank You for being the true Healer. Thank You for touching Hilde with Your power. We know that nothing is stronger than You and that no pain can stand in Your presence. We also pray this medicine will be a blessing to her body. Thank You.” (p. 198)

The secret that Adam wanted to share with Hilde was that he was a member of a clown troupe that visited pediatric wards of hospitals: 

On the way to the restaurant, Adam shared a little more about his group, Clowns for Christ. He’d been with the group for a couple of years. Started at his church as a way to cheer up sick children, it now had ten members who split events between two groups of five clowns each. As he talked about the men he worked with and the vision they shared, I could hear the compassion in his voice for hurting children. It touched my heart and made me feel even closer to him. (p. 216)

The novel ends with the mystery of Mabel being solved. Another important development is the beginning of the healing of the relationship between Hilde and her mother:

My mother’s laughter at something Gabe said washed over me like a healing balm. Ever since we’d had our heart-to-heart talk, things have been better between us. Not perfect. Just better. The most remarkable thing is the look on her face now. There’s a freedom—a quiet joy that hadn’t been there for a long time—a fruit of the spirit that’s been inside her all the time, waiting to come out. We’ve both learned an important lesson: Allowing hurt and anger to quench the fruit God has given us can keep us from being everything He has created us to be. I’m not sure yet just who the real Hilde Higgins is—but I know she’s not the insecure little girl who watched her father drive out of her life in an orange car. Finding my true identity may take some time, but I intend to make that journey hand in hand with my real Father. The One who will never desert me. And now that Mom and I are both on the road to healing, I have every hope that we can have the kind of relationship I’ve always wanted. (p. 247)

This book is yet another example of God leading me to a terrific author who places Him at the center of her story. My understanding is that this is the first in a series of four books featuring Hilde Higgins; I really loved this character, and all of the other multidimensional characters in this novel. I look forward with great anticipation to the continuing adventures of this fun-loving young lady and her wonderfully ‘odd but happy group’ (as Mrs. Mehl describes them on page 249)!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Barbour Books and provided by The Suspense Zone for review purposes.


Andrea said...

Blessings and prayers,

NancyMehl said...

Thanks for the lovely review, Andrea. It is greatly appreciated. (S)


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