Gabriel Hounds, according to some legends in the UK, were human headed dogs. If they fly over a home, it is an omen of death or bad luck. There are many colourful stories around these airborne canines. In Mary Stewart's The Gabriel Hounds, a character says:
I think myself that the idea must have come from the wild geese - have you heard them? They sound like a pack of hounds in full cry overhead, and the old name for them used to be 'gabble ratchet'. I've sometimes wondered if the'Gabriel' doesn't come from 'gabble', because after all Gabriel wasn't the angel of death...
And, from those legends, we leap to a more personal myth in the story. Young Christie Mansel is rich and twenty-two. She has come to Lebanon to look after an aunt. Aunt Harriet is an eccentric lady who lives in a rundown palace called Dar Ibrahim.
|Saluki dog, CC BY-SA 4.0|
But it is said that, if Gabriel Hounds run around and howl in Dar Ibrahim, there will be death. The palace is full of secret passages and strange servants - an excellent setting for murder and mystery.
|Bayan Almaarawi - Maktab Anbar - Old Damascus|
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...
|Lady Hester Stanhope on horseback, via Wikimedia Commons|
Harriet does not meet anyone other than her servants and a young Englishman. Christy feels unwelcome but spends a night there. She senses something is wrong and, with Charles, decides to investigate.
The novel is rich with twists and turns as well as poetic descriptions of the beauty of the region. With an action-packed ending, The Gabriel Hounds will make nice reading this autumn, taking the reader down the highways of the history of a troubled but once very beautiful region.
Alas, like the ill-omened flying Gabriel Hounds, planes from some countries have brought death and devastation to the place, once known as the Paris of the Middle East.
Sneak a preview:
The chapters of Mary Stewart's The Gabriel Hounds open with quotes from The Koran and from Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat.
Given the times, we have to excuse a certain degree of racism in the novel where Arabic is said to sound like an angry cat spitting. However, it will be a pity if we turn away from such historical phenomena. We not only deprive ourselves of a sense of history but also become no less prejudiced.
This post concludes the Mary Stewart journey. The next one tackles a contemporary novel from India where forbidden love flowers in a region rich with gangsters.