Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lord John and the Private Matter, by Diana Gabaldon

Okay, I admit it. Once I find an author I like, I read a lot of his/her work. Right now, I am immersed in the 18th century of Gabaldon's books. This is the first of a few books--maybe three?--featuring Lord John Grey, who is a minor and recurrent character in the Outlander series.

Unlike that series, however, these books are quite short--Private Matter taking only about 300 pages. It is also more straightforwardly a mystery--a death, a dilemma, an investigation, and a resolution.

Lord John is an aristocrat, the second son of naable, and thus left with a courtesy title, family connections, and the obligation of finding his own way through life. He is a soldier, and we first met him in Dragonfly in Amber just prior to the Battle of Culloden which climaxes that book. His Outlander history informs this book as well, but it is not strictly necessary to have read all those mighty works to enjoy this one.

The time is 1750-something, and Lord John is living in London. He remains discretely homosexual, and conflicted about it. While using the privy facilities at his London club, he notices a lesion on the private part of Lord Trevelyan, a rich and powerful man who is engaged to marry Grey's cousin. It appears to be the pox--syphilis.

Naturally, Grey cannot allow the marriage to take place and doom his cousin, but there is not much he can do to end the engagement without sacrificing his cousin's reputation.

Soon after, a dead body turns up, Grey is assigned to investigate, as the victim was a soldier. Clue leads to clue, implicating Lord Trevelyan in a number of potential scandals. THe mystery is solved, after encounters with all levels of society. Most interesting is Gabaldon's venture into the homosexual community of 18th century London. "Molly walks" is the phrase that describes the parks and streets where men would meet, dressed extravagantly, often masked, even posing as women. Curiously enough, Gabaldon's reseach turned up the tidbit that the phrase "Miss Thing" dates back at least 200 years.

This was an absorbing read, and I would definitely pick up the next in the series.

No comments: