Mary Stewart puts her own spin on the Hester Stanhope legend as second cousins Christy and Charles Mansel, while on separate holidays, bump into each other on a street called Straight in Damascus. With the devil may care attitude of the wealthy and privileged, the two decide to look up Great Aunt Harriet, an infamous recluse holed up in her palace in the mountains outside of Beirut. Christy gets there first and after literally barging her way in soon finds herself in the midst of a seriously creepy palace right out of the Arabian Nights peopled with insolent servants, crumbling plaster, leaking roofs as well as the hounds who prowl the grounds at night like the spectral Gabriel hounds of the otherworld.
And that is really about all of the plot I am willing to give away – any more and I’d ruin it for you. Suffice it to say that Christy and Charles soon find themselves in the thick of things as they try to unravel the mystery surrounding their reclusive Aunt Harriet and the servants determined to keep her away from all visitors. I loved loved loved the way Stewart set the scenes, particularly the very spooky palace with the secret staircases, hidden doorways, crumbling plaster, a rusty nail breaking the silence as it falls, all topped off with a fabulous nail biting finish as the island in the midst of the Seraglio (harem) becomes the author’s own take on Noah’s Ark during a sinking ship. Despite being a bit too wealthy and spoiled, the banter between Christy and Charles was fun and refreshing and added the perfect zest to your basic heroine in peril needing to be rescued by the hero. 4/5 stars.