A rollicking, sensuous tale set at a rundown Lebanese palace involving two cousins, an eccentric great-aunt, various chases and subterfuge, The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart is a classic 20th century suspense romance. The hounds of the title are a legend saying that when the dogs run howling around the palace of Dar Ibrahim in the gloriously-named Adonis Valley, death is sure to follow. Christy Mansel leaves her guided tour of Syria and Lebanon to visit the palace of her Great-Aunt Harriet. When she arrives at the beguiling, almost Gothic building, she finds a staff who are incommunicative and protective of their boss who prefers her solitude and will not receive visitors until dark. Waiting to hear if her relative will see her, Christy sets out to explore the passages, gardens, walls and secret places, trying to ignore the glares of the servants and avoid the saluki hounds she has been warned are guard dogs and aggressive to strangers.
The descriptions of Lebanon make the story come alive as do the stories of legends researched by the great-aunt’s assistant, John Lethman. Published in 1967, the story develops slowly compared with current publishing tastes but the settings are luscious and the pace picks up in the second half when the vague suspicions of Christy and her cousin Charles that all at Dar Ibrahim is not as it seems begin to feel real.
This is Beirut and the Lebanon pre-Civil War, pre-the kidnappings of John McCarthy and Brian Keenan, pre-Isis. In creating the character of Great-Aunt Harriet and Dar Ibrahim, Stewart acknowledges her debt to the real life of Lady Hester Stanhope, 19th century traveller and adventurer. ‘She finally seems to have believed in her own mystical destiny as Queen of the East who would one day ride crowned into Jerusalem at the side of the new Messiah.’
I read Mary Stewart as a teenager and remember my delight at the romantic, other-worldly stories in destinations so far from my own life. The Gabriel Hounds is definitely worth re-visiting.
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Here’s my review of Stewart’s TOUCH NOT THE CAT.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GABRIEL HOUNDS by Mary Stewart #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5s3 via @SandraDanby