This is Gabaldon’s first book in a new trilogy following her highly successful Outlander series. The “Lord John” series is based on the relatively minor character from the Outlander books Lord John Grey, who is a young and fiercely patriotic military officer and second son of a wealthy and prestigious family. Lord John is also a secret homosexual, a practice which was seen as akin to treason in these tumultuous days of the Seven Years War between England and France, and which causes him no end of agony and ecstasy in the course of this series.
In this, her first entry to Lord John’s life, the plot begins appropriately enough in the men’s room of an exclusive club, where Grey spies what he suspects is a syphilitic sore on the penis of a nobleman who just happens to be engaged to a cousin and ward of his family. In the absence of Grey’s long-dead father, dealing with such a “private matter” would normally fall to elder brother Hal, but Hal is away on military business and Grey conspires with family friend and confidante Colonel Quarry to confirm his suspicions about the high-ranking Lord Trevelyan and stop the marriage to cousin Olivia, now just weeks ago.
His investigations lead him to a whore house, and reports of an elusive figure in a green dress linked to Trevelyan. It’s not long before a corpse is discovered in a green dress, which turns out to be a man, and the plot thickens as Grey’s trail now leads to the infamous Lavendar House, where prominent homosexuals go to indulge their passions away from prying eyes and flapping tongues, or so they think. Gabaldon’s story gets more and more complicated at this point, with the murder of a life-long soldier with a love of the drink and a wife who despises him. The soldier O’Connell is suspected of having stolen military papers for the French, and Grey is put on the case. One of Trevelyan’s trusted footmen had been sent to keep tabs on O’Connell, and has disappeared, and his younger brother appeals to Grey for help in finding him. The two investigations soon cross, with shocking consequences.
If you can keep the criss-crossing plots and multitudes of characters distinct in your mind, you’ll come out of this book with a genuine appreciation of Gabaldon’s impressive grasp of the political and military times about which she writes, as well as the customs and mores of both the nobility and the common folk in 1757 England. Here’s hoping she’s able to keep the depth and streamline the complexity in coming Lord John novels.