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1.0 out of 5 starsHorribly edited/abridged
Reviewed in Canada on June 6, 2020
Not Mary Stewart's original book. The main characters who are in love are icky first cousins in this version, the worst sort of brother/sister closeness, not at all Stewart's writing. Ruins the entire story, just as the dreadful American book club edit of her magnificent "The Ivy Tree" destroyed that book. There ought to be a warning in the Amazon listing about such editing. Returned for a refund which is sad because I love having these (otherwise) delightful old stories in my Kindle library.
I felt the need to dive back into an old faithful this week, and Mary Stewart was the choice and The Gabriel Hounds the book.
I still love the Mary Stewart mysteries. Yes, they're somewhat dated, but I'm transported back to the girl in her early teens who gobbled them up like potato chips.
The heroine of this tale, is Christy Mansell and she's really not the nicest of people. *LOL* She's 22 years old and oh so world-weary. She's very typically upperclass British just this side of snobby - oh hell, she's actually a moneyed snob, okay? But she owns it, saving her from being detestable.
The hero is her cousin Charles Mansell - they are the children of identical twin brothers, you see. He's a few years older and knows just about everything there is to know. Again, he's that long, lanky, languid British young man that was so popular in the late 60s.
I particularly loved this book because it took place in Lebanon with saluki dogs, ancient palaces, marketplaces and small Arabic villages with small Arabic children. It was in my Violet Winspear days too, when I first read it, so that primed the pump so to speak.
Anyway, it was a pleasure to dive back into a much-loved book by a much-loved author. (And I must mention my love for the new ebook covers. They're scrumptious!)
Christabel Mansel and her cousin Charles have always been close, having grown up together almost as brother and sister. When Christy turns 18 (Charles is a little older), her family move to the States and so the two lose touch but four years later their paths cross again in the Middle East when she goes for a sight-seeing holiday to Damascus and Beirut while he is there on business. As Christy's travels bring her to the very door of the remote palace where their eccentric great-aunt Harriet has secreted herself, she decides to pay her a visit and so starts a remarkable train of events which plunges both cousins into intrigue and danger.
A very different offering from my favourite contemporary writer. This time Lady Stewart gives us a couple of protagonists who are difficult to empathise with. They are both extremely good-looking, admittedly “spoiled”, free-spirited scions of a very wealthy banking family with all the arrogance, self-assurance and even smugness that their privileged upbringing would be expected to provide. Despite the slightly annoying personalities of a young headstrong girl who is often “irritated” and a leading man who is flippant at best and constantly quoting from more or less obscure literature, I found myself deeply involved in the plot and pleasurably engaged in trying to solve the mystery as the story went along.
This is perhaps the most “dated” of Stewart's books and therein lies most of the interest, as she vividly describes places and especially attitudes that are gone forever. It's difficult nowadays to imagine a 22-year-old girl blithely travelling around Syria and Lebanon on her own but in this narrative there is only a suggestion of potential danger and Christy feels, as she frequently reminds her family, that she is perfectly capable of looking after herself. The pacing of the story is also unusual and different from Lady Stewart's other novels in that we get a pretty intense episode, then the tension slackens and the plot meanders seemingly back to square one before picking up again with a vengeance to the breathless finish. In my view, five stars are fully justified by the excellent quality of the writing, sense of place and originality of the plot (although inspired by the life of Lady Hester Stanhope, an adventurous British aristocrat who embraced the Arab world and became a local legend for her eccentric lifestyle in the early 1800's).
I found the book enjoyable and intriguing but, when compared with the rest of Mary Stewart's opus, I was less interested in the driving themes of the story and to me the romance element was so understated as to be almost an afterthought. I did end up liking the two cousins but I felt the character development here was a little laboured. What I usually find enchanting about this author is the effortless narrative gift she displays whereas here one could almost feel the sheer hard work involved in making the story hang together. If you have read other MS books, this one might surprise you. However, if you are new to this author, you may want to start with something like “Nine Coaches Waiting”, “The Moon Spinners”, “Touch Not The Cat”, the fabulous “This Rough Magic” or her strong début novel “Madam, Will You Talk?”.
4.0 out of 5 starsStewart's take on Hester Stanhope
Reviewed in Canada on July 22, 2009
Second cousins Christy and Charles Mansel, while on separate holidays, bump into each other on a street called Straight in Damascus. With the devil may care attitude of the wealthy and privileged, the two decide to look up Great Aunt Harriet, an infamous recluse holed up in her palace in the mountains outside of Beirut. Christy gets there first and after literally barging her way in soon finds herself in the midst of a seriously creepy palace right out of the Arabian Nights peopled with insolent servants, crumbling plaster, leaking roofs as well as the hounds who prowl the grounds at night like the spectral Gabriel hounds of the otherworld.
And that is really about all of the plot I am willing to give away - any more and I'd ruin it for you. Suffice it to say that Christy and Charles soon find themselves in the thick of things as they try to unravel the mystery surrounding their reclusive Aunt Harriet and the servants determined to keep her away from all visitors. I loved loved loved the way Stewart set the scenes, particularly the very spooky palace with the secret staircases, hidden doorways, crumbling plaster, a rusty nail breaking the silence as it falls, all topped off with a fabulous nail biting finish as the island in the midst of the Seraglio (harem) becomes the author's own take on Noah's Ark during a sinking ship. Despite being a bit too wealthy and spoiled, the banter between Christy and Charles was fun and refreshing and added the perfect zest to your basic heroine in peril needing to be rescued by the hero. Four stars.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 5, 2020
One thing Mary Stewart did in her romantic novels set in romantic places was conjure up the landscapes in which she herself had travelled and knew so there is a sense of authenticity behind the stories. In this, rather overblown and stylised, almost Gothic in some senses, suspense romance, she evokes the Lebanese landscape of pre-ISIS, pre-Middle Eastern conflict days of the fifties, when Britain and France still had strong diplomatic ties with the Middle Eastern countries and Beirut was still a busy cosmopolitan city.
"The Gabriel Hounds" evokes an Orientalist and exotic view of Arab culture and harks back to the English women adventurers such as Gertrude Bell and, particularly, Lady Hester Stanhope. With Mary Stewart's trademark plots - an attractive, twenty-something woman meets tall, dark handsome stranger and, after various seemingly sinister encounters and somewhat dastardly deeds, arrives at a romantic conclusion - the story twists and turns in satisfying suspense until resolution. While predictable, Mary Stewart's novels always entertain. I read these novels in my teens and, now in my seventies, return to them with nostalgic pleasure.
Having originally read most of Mary Stewart's novels many many years ago it is always with some trepidation that you re-read and hope that they stand up to the test of time. In this particular story the descriptions of the landscape of the Lebanon are superb. The Gabriel Hounds has a story that develops fairly slowly and it only the final third of the book that there is any real tension and you read quickly to a reasonably satisfactory conclusion. This is not my favourite Mary Stewart book but the writing is always good if a little dated in places. Well worth reading.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 28, 2019
I l oved Mary Stewart books on Merlin and Arthur but her others I have found dated so I didn't finish it. I reached the point where I didn't really care what the characters were going to do next. If you are in the mood for something from another era you might like it a lot. Well written, decent plot
Not one of her best but still brilliant - a page turner, great plot, a sassy heroine, her descriptive writing of the natural environment of the Lebanon, and tense scary moments. Feels very poignant to think about what has happened in Syria since....
Great to re-read these classic novels of the 1950/1960ies. They evoke being back in a gentler world without instant communications with completely different mores than today. But then I never knew I would be able to travel around the Middle East, we learnt about the world from books. Mary Stewart books introduced my generation to the possibilities of travel, that to visit Greece, France, Lebanon was possible, even girls as unaccompanied young people, the world became our oyster encouraged by such books.