While trying to enjoy a relaxing break at the Beefsteak Club, Lord John Grey chances to spot a sore on the privy member of the man who is betrothed to his cousin, while they are relieving themselves. Knowing the man is likely poxed, and with his older brother out of town, the handling of the problem falls to John. But before he can consider how to take care of such a delicate matter, he is drawn into a more urgent one. The Crown wishes him to investigate the brutal murder of a comrade in arms, who may have also been a traitor and a spy. His inquiries lead him into the seedy underbelly of London society while searching for a missing footman and an elusive woman in green velvet, both of whom may be able to shed light on the case. Before long another dead body turns up, this one even more mysterious than the last. But nothing surprises John more than to learn there may be a bizarre connection between his cousin's diseased fiancé and the two murder victims.
Lord John and the Private Matter is the second story and first full-length novel in the Lord John Grey series. Diana Gabaldon has taken Lord John, one of her beloved characters from the Outlander series, and given him his own set of adventures, separate, but somewhat entwined with, the Outlander time-line. In each story, he must solve a mystery in his capacity as a military officer. Actually, in this book, there are two mysteries, which end up intertwining. In the first, John accidentally sees a sore on the "privy member" of Joseph Trevelyan, the man who is betrothed to his cousin. Certain that Trevelyan is poxed, and with his older brother away, it falls to John to investigate the matter further to figure out if what he saw was accurate, and if it is, to somehow find a way to put an end to the betrothal without harming his cousin's reputation. Then there's the matter of another officer who's been found murdered and is suspected of being a spy. When the two puzzles intersect with one another, it leads to all sorts of adventure and intrigue for John.
I've always appreciated Ms. Gabaldon's attention to historical detail. Her talent for research definitely shines through in her work and is part of why I find her books so fascinating. They feed my geeky obsession with all things historical. Probably first and foremost in this book is her exploration of the gay sub-culture in Georgian England. I suppose I found this interesting, because as difficult as things can still be for LGBT people in our modern society, I've wondered how gay people managed in an era in which those sorts of proclivities had to be kept secret at all costs. As those who've read Outlander know, Lord John is gay, and in the course of his investigation, we get to see him navigating this underground part of society. As a result, I learned quite a bit about the historical sexual practices of gay men that I didn't know. There are plenty of other intriguing bits of history as well, including "The Malaria Cure," which I can't say too much about without giving away spoilers, but suffice it to say, I never would have thought there would be medical evidence to suggest that one disease could potentially cure another.
Lord John has always been one of my favorite secondary characters in Outlander, in part because he's an honorable man much like Jamie. I enjoyed seeing the different aspects to his personality and the kind of man he is in this book. We also get to learn more about his personal history, including his family ties and perhaps, most interesting, his lost love. I can't help feeling for John who hasn't exactly been lucky in love. His first love died at Culloden, while his second love, Jamie Fraser, is destined to be an unrequited one. I have no idea if there are any other love interests in the cards for him, but I felt like this book left that possibility open.
Out of all of Diana Gabaldon's books, I've noticed that Lord John and the Private Matter seems to have the lowest ratings. I haven't yet read any reviews of it to find out exactly why this is. All I know is that I liked it extremely well, and IMHO, the quality of the writing is equal to that of the Outlander novels. The story kept me eagerly coming back for more when I had to put it down. While I definitely wouldn't classify this as a romance at all, there is a certain romanticism to the story that only added to my enjoyment of it. There are a few unexpected twists and turns, and I certainly didn't figure out all the connections and motivations until they were revealed, which is another thing that kept me reading. So for me, overall, Lord John and the Private Matter was a great read, and I'm very much looking forward to more Lord John Grey stories.
Note: There are no detailed sex scenes in this book, only one implied scene between two men that is fade to black, but there is a fair bit of detail regarding the sexual practices of gay men in Georgian England that may bother some readers.
Lord John and the Hellfire Club - My edition of this book (which I believe is a first edition) contains a bonus copy of Lord John and the Hellfire Club at the end, so you may click the link for my review of that as well
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