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Review: Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

lord john and the private matter diana gabaldon Review: Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon

Within the opening page of this novel, a spin-off from Gabaldon's popular swashbuckling historical romance series, the allusion in the title becomes more than clear. Lord John Grey, a dandyish fellow whose fastidiously fussy ways are rather at odds with the grimy reality of 18th century London , is, on a visit to the, erm, john treated to the rather unwelcome sight of a syphilitic member. While our protagonist might ordinarily turn a blind eye to this particular ailment, he find himself somewhat conflicted, as the poxed chap in question is set to marry Lord John's young cousin Olivia. Poor John is in rather a pickle as he considers how to break the news to his family in a manner that, unlike the infected fellow's pox, will leave a minimum of scarring.

But syphilis isn't the only thing that Lord John has on the brain (sorry, couldn't let that one slide), and the book's title soon acquires a second meaning. Lord John is of a sudden advised of a more pressing matter: the murder of Sergeant O'Connell, a member of their regiment who is suspected of traitorous intent. Lord John promptly finds himself knee-deep in an investigation that is beginning to reveal itself as about as serpentine as a gorgon's heads, and about as pleasant to deal with. Lord John's social mores are tested as he finds himself traipsing around the seedier aspect of London, engaging in hilariously laconic dialogue with rogue apothecaries, evading the boorish individuals who insist on attending his mother's frequent soirees, carrying about rather soupy corpses dressed in gender-inappropriate attire, and visiting, albeit not entirely unwillingly, all manner of molly houses.

The novel is a wonderfully odd concoction, and Gabaldon's enjoyment in writing it is eminently clear. Poor Lord John's sense of propriety is challenged at every possible moment, but even whilst reeking of decay and clad in an embarrassingly inexpertly patched jacket, he maintains an aloof sense of decorum that is hilariously out of place against the sordid goings on. While some may find issue with the fact that little insight into his true nature is given, the counterpoint between Lord John's stoic involvement in the complex ribaldry of the dual mysteries and their thoroughly scandalous nature really helps to ramp up the stakes.

While Gabaldon is not a seasoned mystery writer, the way in which she intertwines the two seemingly discrete (or is that indiscreet?) mysteries in Lord John and the Private Matter is smart and snappy, and the final reveal is rather startling indeed. That said, the ending is not entirely unproblematic, and there is a very strange flight scene, complete with a painfully extended explanation of the various nefarious goings-on by the culprit, that detracts rather substantially from the strength of the novel. The novel does sag a little throughout with some plodding pacing and some whispered history teacher asides that unfortunately slow down the action somewhat.

In all, though, this novel is a good deal of fun, and Gabaldon's famous authorial charisma shines through throughout, with all manner of jokes and allusions that will have both Gabaldon-buff and history-buff chortling on the train to work. While readers expecting more than a brief nod to famous Gabaldon creations Jamie and Clare might be a little disappointed, readers unfamiliar with the Gabaldon world, or who are interested in a fun little detour into the world of a minor character will no doubt enjoy this enjoyable offering.

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  1. I have just discovered Gabaldon (have read Outlander and have Dragonfly in Autumn on my shelf). I will have to give this one a try. I love this kind of stuff. :)

    • Steph /

      This was my first Gabaldon, and Id love to get my hands on some of her other work. Unfortunately her Outlander books are probably a little lengthy to be read in a single sitting!

      Id heard a lot about her, but after listening to an utterly hilarious interview and reading with her, I was determined to make a concerted effort to seek her out. Its funny that I finally ended up picking up one of her books in Malaysia, rather than here at home, though!

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