Fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series will know the recurring character of Lord John Grey, a British Officer who was once in charge of the Scottish Ardsmuir prison. His character became quite popular, and Gabaldon wrote a series of books to develop his background more. Lord John and the Hand of Devils is actually a collection of three “short” stories Gabaldon wrote. The first two, Lord John and the Hellfire Club and Lord John and the Succubus, appeared in other publications at one point while the the third, Lord John and the Haunted Soldier, was written specifically for this collection to make it worth publishing.
Lord John and the Hellfire Club was actually the first appearance Lord John made outside of the Outlander novels. In it, Lord John witnesses a murder and does his own investigation, which leads him into the world London’s notorious Hellfire Clubs. This was truly a short story, but there are events here that are mentioned in the first Lord John novel, Lord John and the Private Matter.
In Lord John and the Succubus, Lord John is in Germany as the French and Austrian armies are advancing on the troops. He finds himself a liaison officer to the German troops and dealing with rumors of a succubus preying on sleeping soldiers. This story is longer and has more room for character development. We first meet Stephan Von Namtzen, who Lord John will encounter again in his adventures. The character interplay here is very good. Lord John is a homosexual and must keep his sexuality hidden in this time period. He can’t even tell his family. There is some interplay between him and Von Namtzen, but since Lord John is trying to stay hidden in plain sight, he has trepidation about pursuing the relationship any further.
Finally, in Lord John and the Haunted Soldier, the haunting is mostly figurative rather than paranormal. The Royal Commission of Enquiry has commenced an investigation into an incident where a cannon misfired and exploded. Lord John was in charge at the time and a man died. He feels like he needs to seek out the truth to clear his own conscience as well as his name. For the first time, we are introduced to John’s half-brother Edgar, from his mother’s first marriage. It would seem that the commission is dead set on either John or Edgar being made culpable for the cannon’s explosion.
All three stories build up the background of Lord John, who was something of a peripheral character in the early Outlander novels. In particular, Lord John and the Haunted Soldier develops a lot of his family background with a brother I hadn’t read about before. Lord John also works on the mystery by writing letters to Jamie Fraser, whom he loves deeply but will never have. This gives the reader insight into his thoughts and feelings without it being continually descriptive. Of course, he’ll never send the letters, but it’s cathartic for him to write them. This story also shows more of how he survives as a gay man in London at a time when it was punishable by death.
Gabaldon stated she was asked to write a science fiction story, and that was her motivation for Lord John and the Succubus (isn’t time travel science fiction?). I thought it was quite good as it showed how psychological warfare can be just as effective as violence, sometimes even more so. I thought this was the most fun of the three stories, between Lord John’s interaction with Von Namtzen and dealing with the soldiers’ reactions to the succubus rumors.
The first story is the shortest although we again meet Harry Quarry, who is a friend of Lord John’s and in charge of Ardsmuir before him. It’s a bit of a tease for a story, encouraging readers who haven’t yet picked up the Lord John novels to do so.
I found Lord John and the Hand of Devils to be quite fun. This is truly for fans of the series and books who know some of the backgrounds of Lord John and Jamie Fraser. Anyone trying to start reading about these characters here will be lost, as there’s much background of Lord John in the Outlander books as well as his own series. These stories fall in between the books Gabaldon has written about him. To read in order:
Lord John and the Hellfire Club
Lord John and the Private Matter
Lord John and the Succubus
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
Lord John and the Haunted Soldier