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Saturday, March 29, 2008

cover of The Gabriel Hounds

I met him in the street called Straight.
How can you not love an opening line like that? It catches my attention right away and communicates so much with so few words.

Christy Mansel is vacationing in Damascus and runs into her cousin Charles. They decide to drop in and visit on their eccentric Great Aunt Harriet, who has been living on her own in a crumbling, isolated old palace, much like the legendary Lady Hester Stanhope. Charles is detained by business, so while Christy is out on a driving tour she decides to stop by and see if they can visit later. She finds things much stranger than expected, and ends up staying the night in order to meet her aunt, who keeps strange hours. But in the morning, the river is in flood and Christy is stuck. Christy's description of Great Aunt Harriet and the whole situation strikes Charles as being "a bit off", so he does a bit of rock climbing and sneaks into the palace, and they do some exploring and investigating together. Of course, they find that things are not at all what they seem; someone has been taking advantage of this isolated spot to smuggle drugs, which is both very lucrative and very dangerous.

I was surprised to find that this book reminded me of Touch not the Cat-- cousins discovering they love each other, a climax where the lovers are stranded in the middle of an exotic location (in one instance, a hedge maze in the middle of a flood, in the other, an island in the Seraglio garden while the palace goes up in flames), and then of course there are dogs and images of dogs everywhere instead of cats.

The "Gabriel" hounds of the title are a pair of china dogs that Charles admired and nicknamed, which Harriet promised to him (he was always her favorite nephew). As it turns out, this is another variation of the hellhounds of Arawn, like those in Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody [read in 2006 by Lark, 2007 by Sapphire]. Harriet also has a pair of Salukis, and missing in action is her beloved terrier Samson, whom Christy and Charles think is dead until they fail to find a grave for him with Harriet's other dogs. And actually, cats figure into the story too, because Christy has an unnatural loathing and fear of cats, and her encounter with one during her interview with Lady Harriet provides Charles with another clue to what is really going on.

A completely entertaining, engaging book. Plenty of danger and adventure, and, of course, love, since Christy and Charles figure out what their family has apparently expected for years (and what the reader probably expects from the first line of the book) figure out that they belong together.

Title:The Gabriel Hounds
Author:Mary Stewart
Date published:1967
Genre:Romance/Mystery/Adventure ?
Number of pages:244
Notes:repeat reading


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