Lord John and the Private Matter

For those smitten with Diana Gabaldon's epic novels about Jamie and Claire but need something to whet their appetites in-between tomes... well, this series seems to have been designed for just that purpose. Lord John and the Private Matter takes up Lord John Grey as its focal point, a character that first appeared in Dragonfly in Amber as an overenthusiastic English lad on the eve of Culloden who later became an important figure in Voyager as the man assigned to run Ardsmuir, where Jamie was imprisoned. At Ardsmuir, John fell in love with Jamie, a love/fondness that has endured despite the passage of time, even if it is from afar without any hope beyond their friendship (helped a bit, perhaps, by the fact that John assumed the role of father to Jamie's biological son).

In this particular novel, we focus our attention entirely on Lord John Grey and a bit of mystery afoot in London. The book starts in June of 1757 and takes place in a relatively short period of time. While Lord John and the Private Matter was published after Drums of Autumn and before The Fiery Cross, as far as the Outlander series timeline is concerned, it's after Lord John's stint running Ardsmuir. John has deposited Jamie (convicted Jacobite supporter) in Helwater to serve as a groom (as opposed to him being shipped to the Americas)... so as long as you have read Voyager, this small volume will not spoil anything else in the Outlander series. For those who are unfamiliar with the Jamie and Claire novels, I would say that familiarity with those novels is not *required* to understand the plot of this novel (and probably its sequels), but I couldn't quite imagine the allure of reading this series unless you were a fan of the other. Those looking for a good mystery novel could probably come up with a better item elsewhere to fit the bill and should leave this series to the devoted Gabaldon fans. The true appeal lies in a better acquaintance with Lord John and a glimpse of other beloved Gabaldon characters in the wings. It's a perfectly serviceable mystery novel -- though one where it's not entirely possible for the reader to figure it all out on ones own, even if one can guess as to the vague outline of responsibility fairly early on. In an author's note, Gabaldon admits that this novel grew out of the intent to write a short story -- though relatively speaking, given the size of Gabaldon's other novels, I think this might qualify as a short story.

Clearly the Lord John novels are meant to be consumed as quick delights and I think the mystery format is more than sufficient for its purpose... it gives one the perfect framework to encompass a small adventure and leave it there, as opposed to building in complications that have a substantial effect on events in the other series. Lord John and the Private Matter focuses on two particular intrigues that (not so surprisingly) end up being quite entwined despite their very separate origins. After stealing a quick peek at another fellow's member while using the facilities, Lord John realizes that the man to whom his young cousin is engaged appears to have the pox... and for this reason, he needs to find a way to end the engagement with the least amount of scandal attached to either party. Simultaneously, John's services as a military man are enlisted to solve the murder of a soldier... but more particularly to learn whether or not said solider was a spy and if he sold particular information to a foreign government. Like most mysteries, the plots quickly become entwined and along with a host of secondary characters, John solves the case and saves the day.

It may not have the length of her other work, but Gabaldon still keeps a quick pace to this novel. I found that I didn't particularly care much for any of the supporting roles, but if one likes Lord John, then I suppose he's quite pleasant enough to carry off the novel without much support. I hope that the next two in this trilogy (for at the moment, I'm under the impression that there are only three Lord John novels, but goodness knows there might be more forthcoming) are graced with some guest appearances from characters we already know. I imagine they will if Gabaldon knows her audience -- and Gabaldon certainly seems to be a writer who can deliver a novel to please her fans.

No comments: