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Lord John and the Private Matter

Diana Gabaldon

Average Review Rating Average Rating 6/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Century

Published : 2003

Copyright : Diana Gabaldon 2003

ISBN-10 : HB 1-844-13197-1
ISBN-13 : HB 978-1-844-13197-6

Publisher's Write-Up

Lord John Grey is a man at the centre of the political upheavals that rocked Britain in the mid-eighteenth century. The Jacobites are still a threat, and the old enemy, France, is ready and willing to exploit the situation to its own advantage. London, Edinburgh and Paris are hotbeds of espionage, intrigue and murder.

Lord John, having been removed from London for some time, appears to be above the plotting and does not appear to have any allegiance to one clique or another. So when a murder takes place, and seems to be the result of French espionage, he is the one who seems best placed to be able to unravel the knots - but who is John Grey, where do his allegiances lie, and who, in the long run, will he follow and serve?

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Review by Nadine (070604) Rating (6/10)

Review by Nadine
Rating 6/10
In eighteenth century London, Lord John Grey is a military officer and a nobleman. He inadvertently discovers a shocking secret about the man who is shortly to be married to his cousin, and sets out to find a way to stop the wedding before his family name can be tainted. Meanwhile, the body of a fellow officer has been found in the river, and Grey is appointed to investigate. The two affairs turn out to be linked, and Grey finds himself plunged into a tangle of espionage, prostitution and murder in his quest to uncover the truth.

I am a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon's first three novels in the Outlander series. However, I rather felt that she was losing it a bit in book four, and I thought that book five was a plodding, self-indulgent affair which didn't nearly do the author's talent justice. So when I heard that she had written a spin-off book about a relatively minor character from the series, I was keen to see if the sparkle of the original trilogy could be re-captured with this fresh perspective.

I should probably point out here that it is not necessary to have read the Outlander books before reading Lord John and the Private Matter. In fact, I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't had high hopes inspired by the original series.

I always rather liked Lord John. Despite the fact that he was an English soldier patrolling the Highlands after Culloden (and this placed him firmly in the category of "villain"), Ms Gabaldon did an outstanding job of drawing the reader's sympathy for him. I was looking forward to finding out more about his background and getting to know him better.

Sadly, this wasn't to be. I learned very little about his character that I didn't already know. It seemed that this was less a story about him, and more a story about the thin line between high-society and low-life in eighteenth century London. He was just a pawn in the plot - necessary to uncover the details and co-ordinate events, but his own feelings and observations were glossed over so briefly that I simply couldn't get under his skin and see the world that he was seeing.

Unfortunately this was the case for most other characters, too. All were rather underdeveloped and, well, flat (with the possible exception of the Byrd brothers, and Nessie the Scottish prostitute).

I wouldn't mind the lack of characterisation so much, if the book had a gripping, juicy plot to get absorbed in. I hate to say it, but this was sadly lacking, too. A murder mystery in which it is necessary to unravel the less-than-decent dealings of outwardly respectable folk is an encouraging premise, but I found the delivery disappointing. Clues were tenuous and not particularly intriguing. The few red herrings were unconvincing, and each time Lord John put two-and-two together I found myself backtracking to find out just how he came to that conclusion? Maybe that was just me being stupid. Maybe Ms Gabaldon expects her audience to pay more attention than I do and memorise more details so that we can kick ourselves at those epiphanic moments and go "Why didn't I think of that?"

Disappointment aside, the book is not without redeeming qualities. I have nothing but praise for the author's meticulous historical research, and her ability to portray folk from this era as real people who could live among us today. Human nature has always been the same after all - so why should eighteenth century people just be strangely dressed, strangely spoken people with an unfamiliar moral code? People have always been people, and this is where Ms Gabaldon excels. If the book is not up to much as a mystery, it is at least outstanding as an insight into the seedy underbelly of London Society in the mid-eighteenth century. It is morbidly fascinating, and strangely reassuring, to find that the people of 250 years ago were just as depraved and corruptible as they are today.

Throw in the author's trademark dry humour and her seemingly effortless turns of phrase and you have an essentially readable yarn and some enthralling history. It is perhaps unfair of me to try to compare Lord John and the Private Matter with the original Outlander books because they are of completely different genres, and the only link between them is one character. It also pays to remember that a comparatively poor book from the pen of Diana Gabaldon is still better than most!
Nadine (7th June 2004)

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