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Lord John and the Private Matter    by Diana Gabaldon Amazon.com order for
Lord John and the Private Matter
by Diana Gabaldon
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Delacorte, 2003 (2003)
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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The first thing that struck me about this novel, written by the author of the Outlander series, is what it is not. There's no time travel and it's not primarily a romance - although there are some romantic relationships lurking in here. The story begins as Lord John Grey accidentally discovers (while relieving himself behind a Chinese screen) that his young cousin's fiancÚ, the Honorable Joseph Trevelyan, is poxed. In his elder brother's absence, John must act as head of the family, but is perplexed as to how to deal with this private matter. He needs to find a way to extricate his cousin from the marriage, without damaging her reputation.

In parallel, he is embroiled by his Colonel in a search for documents, 'quarterly ordnance requisitions for every British regiment between Calais and Prague' stolen by a spy. Grey's investigations take him to a brothel, where he befriends a young Scots whore named Nessie and learns of a lady in green velvet with links to Trevelyan. There are multiple murders and a poisoning. Lord John's investigations take him into the most disreputable parts of London, and to 'a gentleman's club ... For gentlemen of a particular sort', where he is concerned to protect his own secret. Grey is helped by young Tom Byrd, whose older brother, now missing, worked for Trevelyan. An Austrian vintage wine finally sets him on the right trail.

Diana Gabaldon is always able to make her historical contexts lively, and it's the background that entertains here more than the somewhat mediocre mystery. Though not up to the standard of the Outlander stories, Lord John's antics and attitudes do entertain.

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