Mabel lives with her parents in The Mermaid Hotel, by the sea. Mabel likes to keep an eye on the comings and goings of all the guests. Then one day a particularly in-ter-est-ing old lady comes to stay. There is something very suspicious about her, with her growly voice and her heavy trunks and her beady-eyed tortoise. And why does no one know her REAL name? There can only be one answer, Mabel decides ... this guest is a SUPERVILLAIN. But even supervillains have a soft side, and as an unlikely friendship grows between the pair, their fantastical exploits take them well beyond the corridors of their seaside home.
Mabel's parents run the Mermaid Hotel, and she knows all the building's secrets: "I don't have brothers and sisters; I have rooms," she explains. When a mysterious guest arrives, Mabel wants to know all her secrets, too. The newcomer, a sharp-tongued elderly lady with a feather boa, has many pets and a mountain of luggage, and she calls everyone "darlink." She is, Mabel concludes, a villainess whom she nicknames Madame Badobedah. The girl sets up a spy operation to find out the truth about the enigmatic figure until her ruse is exposed. Villainess or no, Madame Badobedah makes excellent company. "That bed of mine is a pirate ship," she tells Mabel. "I call it the Not-So-Jolly Roger. Shall we set sail, Captain Mabel?" Sparky dialogue in Dahl's children's debut charms; watercolor vignettes and spreads by O'Hara (Hortense and the Shadow) fuse spun-sugar whimsy with theatrical drama (the Not-So-Jolly Roger surges across the waves toward the reader, with Madame Badobedah at the helm). Soon Mabel feels that she can share the Mermaid Hotel's best secret with her. Dahl's yarn unspools with impressive assurance as two strong female characters grapple with each other, and both emerge victorious. Ages 5 8.