Sunday, October 21, 2012

63. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

Talk about a drop-off!  I went from crushing several books a week to reading almost nothing for 3 months.  Here's what happened.  I went from staying in a garage above my parents in California on a work assignment where I had an hour on public transit a day, plus lots of alone quiet time in a region that for whatever reason really makes on want to read to a busy, hot summer in Montreal where when I wasn't working or socializing I wanted to be outside either working on projects or walking the neighbour's dog.  On top of that, I was overseeing the biggest project of all, helping my wife to bring in a new future reader into the world.  Despite all that, I could have read a bit more in some spare quiet moments like just before going to sleep (or more realistically, in the bathroom).  The final killer on my reading was that I inherited my wife's old iPad, which is the ultimate attention-span killer.  I also think I allowed myself to let up because I had already reached my quota.  I am slowly feeling the urge to read to come back, but I make no promises.  It's basketball season!

On Labour Day weekend, my wife and I drove to cottage country in Ontario.  Rather than take the main highway to Toronto and then up to the Georgian Bay, we decided to go through Ottawa.  It's a slightly slower route, but much more scenic.  Near the end, somewhere around the Kawartha's, in what was a mix of farm and vacation country, on an old two-lane highway, we saw a sign for "The World's Smallest Bookstore".  Though a bit behind schedule, I had to stop.  It turned out to be a small hobby farm with a trailer that was filled with bookshelves.  Nobody was around but the squawking chickens in the coops next door.  You basically took whichever books you wanted and left $3 for each one.  They also sold eggs in the same manner, but the mini-fridge was empty.  It was a very cool set-up and really got me excited.  There were tons of old hardbacks.  Unfortunately, the fiction was almost all Book Club editions of bestsellers from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, lots of bestsellers and obscure but mainstream novels that looked kind of bland.  (Personally, I have no problem with Book Club editions, as they can often look just as nice as originals and sometimes have alternative designs with neat little tidbits.)  I did find this Mary Stewart book as well as the first three Eric Amblers.  So no major treasure, but a fun little discovery.

The Gabriel Hounds is one of her classic gothic thrillers.  It's the story of a plucky young aristocratic woman on bus tour holiday in London.  She runs into her favourite cousin, who has grown into a dashing young man.  They share an eccentric aunt who fled to the middle east years before and had grown into a kind of crazy legend in the family and locally, as she took over an old Arabian Nights style castle.  Both cousins had planned on paying her a visit, but because of unseen circumstances, our heroine goes first.  She quickly finds things very suspicious in the compound, where Great-Aunt Harriet at first refuses to see her, communicated via a suspicious British man who claims to be taking care of her.  Things get weird, adventure ensues (actually some pretty lively stuff compared to her last gothic thriller that I read), the two cousins realize they love each other (they are distant cousins, though the constant incest subtext is definitely weird) and papa shows up to whisk them back to their hotel rooms to get cleaned up and have some tea.

Again, her gothic thrillers are all slightly mild.  The bad stuff going on isn't all that bad and you never feel that the protagonist is truly threatened.  This one did have a really cool location, Dar Ibrahim, the aunt's compound, once a thriving castle for the local emir and now all rundown, with secret doors, an indoor pond and menagerie and all decorated with rotting, decaying furnishings of past arabic glory.  And there was some pretty good violence (though none of it directed at the protagonist).  I think I got a good taste for these kinds of books of hers and probably won't read any more (unless someone can recommend a particularly good one, on par with her Arthurian stuff).  They are good, but not quite my cup of tea.


Anonymous said...

What's this? A child is born? Chris

Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

So, wait: does that mean congratulations are in order...?