Thursday, September 19, 2013

{review} the gabriel hounds

Mary Stewart The Gabriel Hounds (1967)

This is a post for Mary Stewart Week, the brainchild of Anbolyn at Gudrun's Tights.
I went back to the bookshelf. It would be nice to be able to record that I was the kind of person who would pick up the Dostoevsky or the Huxley or even The Golden Bough and curl up with it for a glorious evening’s read. But when eventually Mr Lethman came for me as he had promised, he found me a few chapters into The Tiger in the Smoke, and half-wishing I had chosen something less exciting for a night in the deserted wing of a ruined palace.


Let me confess: the first image matches the lovely vintage edition 1967 Hodder & Stoughton edition I bought for this week. Then I opened it to discover the print was agonisingly small. So I bought the kindle edition with the ridiculously anachronistic cover. The book is set in the late 1960s, for heaven's sake! That camel will eat your hat and nosegay.

Apart from being a teensy bit incestuous for my tastes, The Gabriel Hounds is very much a classic Mary Stewart romantic suspense book:
Wonderful setting? – tick!
Adventure? – tick!
Proper old-school bad guys? - tick!
Some sort of morally abhorrent crime? – tick!
Heroine with lovely expensive mostly linen clothing which undergoes almost complete destruction without ever affecting the integrity of her innate daintiness? - tick?
Romance – tick!
The years rolled back more swiftly even than the crimson silk as he said, with exactly the same intonation with which a small boy had daily greeted his even smaller worshipper: ‘Oh, hullo! It’s you!’ I wasn’t a small girl any more, I was twenty-two, and this was only my cousin Charles, whom of course I didn’t worship any more. For some reason it seemed important to make this clear.
Let's get this out of the way first. Cousins! Any cousins here? How about you get out more and meet other people? Dilute that gene pool! Go on... You're both young, rich, gorgeous and set loose in an exotic location in the Middle East - go fall for someone to whom you're not related. Especially if you're also the off-spring of parents who were twins (not with each other, but you get the picture). Ick and yuck and aren’t there laws about that?


Christy (Christabel) Mansel is a "stinking rich" girl of independent mind on a tour of the Middle East when she runs into her cousin Charles, whom she has not seen for several years. As a child she had worshipped him. The two make a plan to meet up in Beirut after her tour and visit their wildly eccentric and rarely seen great-aunt Harriet, who has adopted the manner and the lifestyle of the early nineteenth century lady traveller Lady Hester Stanhope. Great-Aunt Harriet is holed up in a ruinous palace outside Beirut and is living the life of an orientalised nabob. Charles was a favourite of the dog-loving old lady, who wishes him to have her pair of Ming dynasty china dogs – the eponymous Gabriel Hounds.

There is a bit of a travel mix-up and Christy - always strong-minded – decides to visit her aged relative alone. The palace is falling to pieces and a personable but vague young man is living there with the great-aunt. When Christy eventually gains admittance, she is wholly horrified by exactly how crazy her great-aunt appears:
Her skin had a sallow pallor and her lips were bloodless and sunken, but the black eyes and well-marked brows gave life to the fullish, oval face, and showed none of the fading signs of old age. She had daubed powder lavishly and carelessly, and some of it had spilled over the scarlet velvet. Above this curiously epicene face she had twined a towering turban of white, which, slipping a little to one side, exposed what for a shocked moment I took to be a bald skull; then I realised she must have shaved her head. This, if she habitually wore a thick turban, was only to be expected, but it was somehow the final touch of grotesqueness.
But beyond this theatrical horror show, Christy fears that something is badly wrong in the palace. What is going on in the old dungeons (I do love a dungeon in a book!)? What was in those really very aromatic cigarettes? Where are the missing Gabriel Hounds? And, as the nearby river rises and she is cut off from civilization, is it too late for rescue? Well, of course not - this is a Mary Stewart book, after all – but how will Christy extract herself from danger? And what has happened to handsome Cousin Charles?

This is an enjoyable read with typical Stewart touches of darkness and mild horror. Her language is a joy: "Eastern-looking sheep" are "spatchcocked with black"; the iron bedstead "came across the cracked marble with a dot-and-carry-one screech of broken castors"; when drugged, one's thoughts "dislimned". I have quoted a passage on the intriguing contents of a bookcase in the palace, and there are plenty of small touches that increase the suspense. Among these I would particularly note: the atmosphere of being trapped in a proper old-school harem seraglio with all its white-slaving implications for nice young English ladies; the heroine's name, Christabel, with its Gothicky poetic overtones (I didn't figure this out for myself – Stewart likes to quote from Coleridge's spooky poem); and, of course, the mysterious Gabriel Hounds themselves – named after the pack of Hounds of Hell "that run with death, and when someone's going to die you hear them howling over the house at night."

An additional sense of melancholy suffused this reader too, thinking about Christy's mostly idyllic Syria and Lebanon and the terrible devastation those countries have suffered since.

I have previously been facetious about elements of the sameness in Mary Stewart's romantic suspense books. Nevertheless, I am a 100% believer that well-constructed beautifully written sameness can be one of the most comforting things about reading a beloved author.

If you liked this... I have now moved on to another Mary Stewart – Thornyhold – which I am enjoying, although it offers quite a change of pace to The Gabriel Hounds, and may be a tad witchy for my tastes. I think that my favourite Stewart (so far!) is The Ivy Tree (definitely one for fans of Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar), with My Brother Michael battling it out for the next spot with the exciting Avignon-set (but unpleasantly domestically-violent) Madam Will You Talk. I have also commented briefly on Airs above the GroundWildfire at Midnight, and Touch Not the Cat (cousins again!). Curiously I have not reviewed any of my favourites. 

I hope everyone is enjoying Mary Stewart Reading Week
and thanks again to Anbolyn for hosting!



  1. I hate these new covers too! But I enjoyed your review, it's a long time since I had a Mary Stewart pash and this brought The Gabriel Hounds right back, one of my faves although I suspect a bit mad plotwise.

    My one and only foray into Mills & Boon was a 1960s (I think) rip-off of Nine Coaches Waiting. I wish I could remember the title. Needless to say, it was very poor, but there was one very weird scene where the English governess heroine was set upon by dogs who tore her clothes into tatters before the dark, surly hero arrived to call them off.

    1. There are some quite bizarre Stewartisms as well as the more comforting ones - the gradual striptease of expensive frocks is one; also that very odd violence of the hero to the heroine in Madam Will You Talk; and as Lisa pointed out in her review of Wildfire at Midnight, heroes and heroines who seriously should consider some relationship counselling before taking the plunge (again)! I hope you remember the title of the M&B rip-off - it sounds hysterically bad.

  2. Great review! You're so right about the cousins, especially in Touch Not the Cat, which has this parade of potentially romantic cousins, and it is somewhat disturbing. But I still love Mary Stewart for all of the reasons you mention.

    1. Maybe this is why there are so many slightly odd heroines in the books - too much interbreeding?! Everyone in Touch Not the Cat was so odd, I kept thinking "No! Don't Do It!".

  3. Lovely review and you're right about the comforting nature of particular authors and their sameness - sometime we need that!

    1. I think we do, Kaggsy - it'd be a bit dull all the time, but there are those moments when it has to be an old favourite or a new favourite that will totally reliably recover that comforting ground.

  4. I enjoyed this book, though I agree with you about the cousins. I loved the descriptions of Lebanon and Syria - of all Mary Stewart's wonderful settings this one was probably my favourite. I was also left wanting to find out more about Lady Hester Stanhope. She sounds such a fascinating person!

    1. Thanks Helen - she establishes such a good sense of place, whether it be desert or mountainside or even the heroine's garden. I do like that element of real care for setting in her books. Lady Hester is amazing -- such a pioneer, but truly bats as well (that may have helped in her era, I guess!).

  5. This cracked me up: "Heroine with lovely expensive mostly linen clothing which undergoes almost complete destruction without ever affecting the integrity of her innate daintiness? - tick? "

    I found a copy of this one just from reading the passage you quoted about the library! It's definitely on the top of my list, though now I'm also very intrigued with My Brother Michael (no incest there, as I understand it :)

    1. Definitely no incest in My Brother Michael, though one does start to wonder! I really liked the Greek setting of that one (around Delphi). It also had a quite contemporary feel with a really strong heroine. I think she might even wear trousers. I can't specifically remember if they get torn to ribbons too, but it is likely!

  6. I love everything about this post! I do also agree with you about beautifully written sameness bringing great comfort - it's also why I enjoy Barbara Pym. I have a copy of The Gabriel Hounds, but something has put me off reading it, maybe the cousin thing? I don't know, but I think I will read The Ivy Tree first. Thank you for posting during this week!

    1. It was a pleasure, Anbolyn! There was a moment in the plot when she meets another man who'd fall into the eligible category, and I had high hopes, but of course it was not to be. The Ivy Tree is rather good, I thought - I hope you enjoy it!

  7. I'm not sure I've ever read and Stewart and I'm not quite sure how that happened! During my teens & twenties I devoured Jean Plaidy's, Victoria Holt's & Catherine Gaskin's which would have been the ideal time to also 'discover' Stewart and Georgette Heyer...but I missed both. I think they sound like lovely comfort reads :-)

    1. I missed all of these growing up too, and I am only now thinking that I should read some Victoria Holt as I suspect she's closest to a combination of Stewart-Heyer.

  8. Just discovered your blog. Really enjoyed this post Vicki. Thanks for visiting mine too. cheers

  9. I have never read this one! And cousins? Ew. Lol. I am about to read Touch Not the Cat, maybe I won't. I loved Thornyhold, but I love witchy tales. :)

    1. So nice to discover a new-to-me blog via this week's reading. It is almost incredible how free of cousins Thornyhold is! Everyone does seem to like Touch Not the Cat (except me), so please don't write it off based on my 'telepathy is too weird' feelings! ;-)

  10. Hi Vicki, I have never read Mary Stewart - I'm going to get some from the library to try. Cheers

    1. I really hope you enjoy her, Carole - thanks for popping by!


{READ IN 2018}

  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore
Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository