'A comfortable chair and a Mary Stewart: total heaven. I'd rather read her than most other authors.' Harriet Evans
Legend has it that when the Gabriel Hounds run howling over the crumbling palace of Dar Ibrahim, high in the Adonis Valley of Lebanon, death will follow on their heels. When rich, spoilt Christie Mansel arrives at the decaying palace to look after her eccentric Aunt Harriet, she arrives to the sound of howling dogs. The palace is riddled with hidden passages and the servants are unwilling to let anyone see Harriet during the day. It seems the palace hides an extraordinary secret . . . one that somebody is willing to kill to keep.
The deep blue oblong of sky above the open court was pricking already with brilliant stars. No ugly diffusion of city light spoiled the deep velvet of that sky; even hanging as it was above the glittering and crowded richness of the Damascus oasis, it spoke of the desert and the vast empty silence beyond the last palm tree.
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The Gabriel Hounds
By Mary Stewart
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Mary Stewart
All right reserved.
No vain discourse shalt thou hear therein:
Therein shall be a gushing fountain;
Therein shall be raised couches,
And goblets ready placed,
And cushions laid in order,
And carpets spread forth.
--The Koran: Sura LXXXVII
I met him in the sunset called straight.
I had come out of the dark shop doorway into the dazzle of the Damascus sun, my arms full of silks. I didn't see anything at first, because the sun was right in my eyes and he was in shadow, just where the Straight Street becomes a dim tunnel under its high corrugated iron roof.
The souk was crowded. Someone stopped in front of me to take a photograph. A crowd of youths went by, eyeing me and calling comments in Arabic, punctuated by "Miss" and " 'Allo" and "Good-bye." A small grey donkey pattered past under a load of vegetables three times its own width. A taxi shaved me so near that I took a half step back into the shop doorway and the shopkeeper, at my elbow, put out a protective hand for his rolls of silk. The taxi swerved, horn blaring, past the donkey, parted a tight group of ragged children the way a ship parts water, and aimed without any slackening of speed at the bottleneck where the street narrowed sharply between jutting rows of stalls.
It was then that I saw him. He had been standing, head bent, in frontof a jeweler's stall, turning over some small gilt trinket in his hand. At the blast of the taxi's horn he glanced up and stepped quickly out of the way. The step took him from black shadow full into the sun's glare, and, with a queer jerk of the heart, I saw who it was. I had known he was in this part of the world, and I suppose it was no odder to meet him in the middle of Damascus than anywhere else, but I stood there in the sunlight, gazing, I suppose rather blankly, at the averted profile, four years strange to me, yet so immediately familiar, and somehow so inevitably here.
The taxi vanished into the black tunnel of the main souk with a jarring of gears and another yell of its horn. Between us the dirty hot street was empty. One of the rolls of silk slipped from my hands, and I grabbed for it, to catch it in a cascade of crimson just before it reached the filthy ground. The movement and the blinding colour must have caught his attention, for he turned, and our eyes met. I saw them widen, then he dropped the gilt object back on the jeweler's stall and, ignoring the stream of bad American which the man was shouting after him, crossed the street towards me. 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. I tried to echo his tone, but only managed to achieve a sort of idiotic deadpan calm. "Hullo. How nice to see you. How you've grown!"
"Haven't I just, and I shave nearly every week now." He grinned at me, and suddenly it wasn't the small boy any more. "Christy love, thank goodness I've found you! What in the world are you doing here?"
"Didn't you know I was in Damascus?"
"I knew you were coming, but I couldn't find out when. I meant, what are you doing on your own? I thought you were here with a package tour?"
"Oh, I am," I said, "I just got kind of detached. Did Mummy tell you about it?"
"She told my mother, who passed it on to me, but nobody seemed very clear what you were doing or just when you'd be here, or even where you'd be staying. You might have known I'd want to catch up with you. Don't you ever give anyone your address?"
"I thought I had."
"You did tell your mother a hotel, but it was the wrong one. When I rang them up they told me your group had gone to Jerusalem, and when I telephoned there they referred me back to Damascus. You cover your tracks well, young Christy."
"I'm sorry," I said, "if I'd known there was a chance of meeting you before Beirut . . . Our itinerary was changed, that's all, something to do with the flight bookings, so we're doing the tour back to front, and they had to alter the Damascus hotel. Oh, blast, and we leave for Beirut tomorrow! We've been here three days now. Have you been here all the time?"
"Only since yesterday. The man I have to see in Damascus isn't coming home till Saturday, but when I was told you'd be about due to arrive here, I came straight up. As you say, blast. Look, perhaps it's a good thing they've turned your tour arsy-versy--you needn't go tomorrow, surely? I've got to wait here till the weekend, myself, so why don't you cut loose from your group and we'll do Damascus together and then go on to Beirut? You're not bound to stay with them, are you?" He looked down at me, raising his brows. "What on earth are you doing in a package tour, anyway? I wouldn't have thought it was exactly your thing."
"I suppose not, but I got a sudden yen to see this part of the world, and I didn't know a thing about it, and they make it so easy--they do everything about bookings and things, and there's a courier who speaks Arabic and knows the score. I couldn't very well come on my own, could I?"
Excerpted from The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart Copyright © 2006 by Mary Stewart. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Solidly written and plotted, written in 1960. Older attitudes and worries, but exciting story and setting
Christy Mansell is on a pleasure trip to Damascus when she meets her cousin Charles. Their great-aunt Harriet lives in the High Lebanon, where she plays a sort of Lady Hester Stanhope role, living in a decrepit old palace secluded from everything. There¿s an unspoken rule that nobody is allowed to visit her, but Christy decides to pay her great-aunt an unexpected visit. Met with resistance at first by Harriet¿s doctor, Christy gains entry into the palace, but she and her cousin soon discover that not all is as it seems.Christy Mansell is typical of Mary Stewart¿s heroines; she¿s young and spunky, and used to doing whatever she pleases. Under any other writer, this sort of thing might get annoying, but somehow Stewart manages to make each of her heroines unique. Also expected is the romance aspect of the book, which I wasn¿t quite as satisfied with as I was with the rest of the book, but enjoyed nonetheless. The romance story lines of Mary Stewart¿s books are always gentle and understated.As with all of her novels, The Gabriel Hounds moves at a tight, rapid pace; I don¿t know how Mary Stewart ever did it, but her books are always infused with the right amount of suspense. And yet, the outcome of the story totally came as a surprise. It¿s this combination of the expected and the unexpected that make Mary Stewart¿s books so appealing.
I've read all her mysteries over and over since I was in my teens. I love them every time!