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Diana Gabaldon – Lord John and the Private Matter

September 20, 2011

114. Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon (2003)
Lord John, Book 1

Length: 308 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 03 September 2011
Finished: 04 September 2011

Where did it come from? BookMooch.
Why do I have it? I spent much of 2008 plowing through Gabaldon’s Outlander books, and greedily getting my hands on anything even tangentially related.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 03 October 2008.

Lord John Grey has two
tasks: break up an engagement
and solve a murder.

Summary: Lord John Grey has just discovered an inconvenient secret. A surreptitious glance at the privy has informed him that the Honorable Joseph Trevelyan has got the pox – a problem, seeing as he’s engaged to Lord John’s cousin. However, before Lord John can find a way to stop the wedding without causing a scandal – or admitting how he came by his information – he’s tasked by his military superiors to investigate the violent death of a fellow soldier… one suspected of being a traitor and a spy. His investigations will lead him into both sides of London society: both the posh and proper social circles dictated by his rank and his family, and the seamier underbelly of hidden and unspeakable desires.

Review: Lord John and the Private Matter was a fun read, with an interesting and well-built mystery and plenty of 18th century atmosphere, as one might expect from Gabaldon. However, it lacked some of the charm of her Outlander series, and wasn’t nearly as compelling… and I think that can be put down squarely to the lack of Jaime Fraser. I mean, I like Lord John as a character; I think his presence has added a lot of interesting wrinkles to the Outlander books, and it’s fascinating to think about what it meant to be gay in a time and place when such a thing was practically unthinkable, let alone unspeakable. But as much as I like him, he just doesn’t have the force of personality of Jaime and Claire, and it makes his story seem a little paler in comparison.

The world is not exactly hurting for 18th century London historical fiction, and while this book is set apart to some extent by the issue of Lord John’s sexuality, it wasn’t enough to make it really a standout for me. I enjoyed reading it, for sure – Gabaldon’s prose is mostly unobtrusive, and there are plenty of sly hints of humor to round out the mystery – and I’ll certainly read the other Lord John books, but they’re not something that’s going to stick with me the way Outlander and its sequels have. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Primarily of interest to those who are already familiar with Lord John from Gabaldon’s other books, but it should appeal to those who want a light historical mystery. Lord John and the Private Matter actually comes after the short story “Lord John and the Hellfire Club” (which is included in Lord John and the Hand of Devils), which I didn’t realize until part way through… although I wish I had, since there are apparently a number of connections between that story and this book.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Ace and Hoser Blook, Mandy’s Escape, Stella Matutina
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It was the sort of thing one hopes momentarily that one has not really seen – because life would be so much more convenient if one hadn’t.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 30: ““So,” Quarry went on, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the rattle and squeak of the carriage, “this man, Trevelyan’s footman – Byrd, his name is, Jack Byrd – he took up rooms across from the slammerkin O’Connell lived with.”” – a slut; a slatternly woman.
    .
  • p. 39: “Next morning, Grey sat in his bedchamber, unshaven and attired in his nightshirt, banyan, and slippers, drinking tea and debating with himself whether the authoritative benefits conferred by wearing his uniform outweighed the possible consequences – both sartorial and social – of wearing it into the slums of London to inspect a three-day-old corpse.” –
    a loose shirt, jacket, or gown.
    .
  • p. 68: ““We’re having a German evening – and you do the lieder so well, Johnny!”” – a typically 19th-century German art song characterized by the setting of a poetic text in either strophic or through-composed style and the treatment of the piano and voice in equal artistic partnership.
    .
  • p. 81: “This was a cut above the usual bagnio, with paintings on the walls and a good Turkey carpet before a handsome mantelpiece, on which sat a collection of thumbscrews, irons, tongue-borers, and other implements whose use he didn’t wish to imagine.” – a brothel.
    .
  • p. 167: ““Up to and including thumbscrews?” Harry inquired, standing up. “Or shall I stop at knouting?”” – a whip with a lash of leather thongs, formerly used in Russia for flogging criminals.
    .
  • p. 237: “It made him think of Trevelyan, and his emerald ring, incised with the Cornish chough.” – any of several crowlike Old World birds, especially Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, of Europe.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 8:38 pm

    I still have only read Outlander. One day I am going to remedy that…

    • September 27, 2011 10:00 am

      Kailana – You should! Timeline-wise, I think the Lord John books take place during the gap between Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager, but they shouldn’t be read until after Voyager. But the rest of the Outlander series (especially through Voyager) is definitely, definitely worth reading.

  2. September 21, 2011 12:06 pm

    I haven’t read the Lord John books yet (although I own a signed copy of the second one). I’ve heard from many people that the books are okay but not stellar like the Outlander series (which I mostly love). I thought it was funny that some readers were upset that the Lord John books weren’t racier, whereas my least favorite parts of the Outlander books (especially the last couple) are the loves scenes.

    • September 27, 2011 10:02 am

      Alyce – I would be okay with the Lord John books being racier, not because I love the love scenes per se (although I certainly don’t mind them either, but just because poor Lord John deserves a little lovin’ too.

  3. September 21, 2011 4:33 pm

    I loved the Outlander series but I haven’t picked these up yet. Even though I haven’t read them, I agree with you that Lord John’s character just doesn’t have the same force of nature as Jaime and Claire do. Maybe someday though…

    • September 27, 2011 10:04 am

      Amy – I think it’s going to have a stock of books on hand that you know are going to be reliably enjoyable. Gabaldon can make the past come alive, and she can tell a good story, so even if they’re not great, they’re at least reliably good.

  4. September 25, 2011 1:13 am

    I thought this was fairly average, enjoy Outlander but haven’t read any of the other Lord John books.

    • September 27, 2011 10:05 am

      Sam – I’ve got the other two Lord John books floating around, and will probably read them soonish, but I’m not as excited by the new Lord John book as I would be by a new Outlander book.

  5. September 28, 2011 5:16 am

    I’ll admit that Fraser by himself is a huge part of why I enjoyed the Outlander series. I’m still curious enough to want to read this at some point though. Plus I love historical mysteries!

    • October 4, 2011 1:53 pm

      Kay – I wonder how I’d have felt about it just as a stand-alone historical mystery, without the connection to the Outlander series… I honestly can’t say if I would have liked it more, or less.

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