Fans of author Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series will immediately recognize the character of Lord John Grey. He’s a British Lord who pops in and out of the story at various times. Here, Gabaldon has further fleshed out the character in a series of novellas and created some fascinating stories that fit with history as well as the world she created.
I approached this not sure how I would feel. I don’t have a problem with gay protagonists, but I had to wonder if this was another way to cash in on the series with little effort. I’m happy to say it is not. In interviews, Gabaldon has stated she became intrigued with the character of John Grey in those stories and wrote a few “short” stories to develop his background more. The story is a lot more than what I was expecting, and something different from the other books.
Whereas other books in the Outlander series rely heavily on the concept of time travel and characters who have some knowledge of future events, Lord John and the Private Matter is pure historical fiction. This reads quite a bit like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, where Lord John finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery.
Lord John Grey is the second son in the family, with little pressure on him except to support his older brother, who inherited his father’s title and all that goes with it. However, Lord John is also a decent man. He’s carved out a successful military career. While on leave waiting for his next post, he witnesses something that shakes him to the core. If true, it could have a great impact on his family, and he is nothing if loyal to his family. At the same time, he is tasked with investigating the murder of a fellow soldier who may have also been a traitor. As he investigates both, he soon finds there are threads tying them together.
For those acquainted with the character, you’ll recall that he is a homosexual. At this time in London Society, it is something he must keep secret and he knows quite a bit about discretion. He treads a line as he tries to figure out what’s going on and protect all involved from scandal, possibly including himself and his family. He moves among different worlds with efficiency, from the social clubs of London’s elite to the brothels that feed any number of desires. His adventures here fit well with what we know of him in the Outlander universe as he’s the model of a gentleman in public. This helps with the investigation, as he is capable of making people across all classes feel comfortable around him without being too intimidating. At the same time, he can be firm and direct and draw on the power his uniform gives him, if necessary.
The way John must live, hiding his true self, is also a good part of the focus. There’s always an underlying fear of being found out for him. He has to be cautious around people, even with his mannerisms so there would never be any questions. At the same time, he has needs. Lord John is far from perfect, but he does try to be a good person, which is more than can be said about a lot of his contemporaries in this story.
I really enjoyed this addition to the Outlander universe. It’s a good piece of historical fiction as well as having a good mystery. There may not be the easy camaraderie we’ve seen between Lord John, Jamie, and Claire, but it more than makes up for that with interesting the characters Lord John encounters. Don’t expect Outlander-lite; take it for what it is and enjoy the story.