I really didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did, even harboring affection Gabaldon’s Outlander books, and especially the character of Lord John Grey, whom I find to be adorable and heartbreaking.
The Lord John Grey series is a spin-off of Outlander, following Lord John Grey, a character first introduced in Dragonfly in Amber as a sixteen year old boy who encounters Jamie and Claire the night before the battle at Prestonpans, but he’s most prominent (at least as far as I’ve read in books 1-5) in Voyager, which is a book that spans twenty years. In those twenty years, Jamie and LJG meet again, and eventually become friends, although we only see select scenes of their friendship, including one in which Grey’s unrequited love for Jamie threatens to ruin said friendship. The LJG series takes place during the years covered in Voyager. It’s not necessary to read the Outlander series before reading this series, but the context does help, especially when LJG references his relationship (and obvious aforementioned unrequited love).
Mostly, this is a well-written murder mystery set in London in 1557, in which the protagonist is a gay man in a world where that is completely taboo. LJG is asked to investigate the murder of a British soldier believed to be a spy (it’s the beginning of the Seven Years’ War, so that’s important). His investigation begins to coincide with his personal life in unexpected ways.
Gabaldon does that thing that Agatha Christie used to do where she has her ‘detective’ have long conversations with people, and the people are very well developed. Like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, LJG is an outsider, although he masquerades as a functional, normal member of society, hiding his ‘deviation’ from public view. But he feels it, and because he feels it, it colors all his interactions in this book, particularly those involving the seedier element of London life (including a trip to a whorehouse, and an all male gentleman’s club). It also makes him perfectly suited to rooting out the secrets other people keep.
My favorite mystery series are ones where they’re also secretly stealth character pieces, and this one certainly qualifies. It also has a wealth of side characters I enjoyed very much; even when they were unlikable, they were interesting. All in all, I’m really glad I picked this up. It was a nice palate cleanser after suffering through The Fiery Cross a couple of weeks ago, and it renewed my faith in Gabaldon as a writer. Can’t wait to read the rest of the series. (Get the audiobook if you can–narrator Jeff Woodman is always a good time.)