Friday, 3 November 2000

Mary Stewart: The Gabriel Hounds (1967)

Edition: Hodder & Stoughton, 1967
Review number: 669

Lady Hester Stanhope was, at least when seen from a distance, a romantic figure. Her background was the English Regency nobility, and yet she ended up in a palace in Syria, playing the role of the (male) Arab potentate. She is the basis for the character around whom this novel rotates, but in this case at least the reality behind the romance is rather more shabby - ostentation is not cheap in the twentieth century.

After many years during which Harriet Mansel has hidden herself away in her valley in the Lebanon, two relatives on holiday in the Middle East decide to try to visit her. (Her eccentricity makes them rather unsure of their welcome.) But when they do get in to see her, it looks as though something is wrong - they just can't quite put their finger on what it is.

The Gabriel Hounds is not Mary Stewart's most successful thriller, even though all the usual ingredients are there. Though the background is the same kind of exotic location shared by all her thrillers up to this point, it is more perfunctorily sketched in. By 1967, she probably needed more work
to come up with somewhere evocative, yet not already familiar to her readers; she did eventually abandon this part of her formula in favour of a nostalgic version of rural England. Her plotting also lets her down a bit this time, and the ending is particularly disappointing.

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