So the recent publicity about Outlander, the series based on Diana Gabaldon’s genre-bending books, got me interested enough to take a look at the author’s home page which in turn lead me to her excellent series of historical mysteries starring Lord John Grey. Lord Grey, a British aristocrat and soldier, is a minor character in the Outlander books who, quite accidentally, has been spun off into his own series. Unlike the Outlander books which don’t fit neatly into one genre category (they are fantasy/historical fiction/romance/add genre of your choice here), the Lord John Grey series are historical mysteries. While supernatural explanations are proffered for odd happenings, the truth usually turns out to be quite prosaic and is uncovered by old-fashioned detective work.
John Grey is an upper class nobleman with a dark secret–he’s gay and being a sodomite (to use the 18th century term) in Britain at that time is a ticket to scandal at best and prison and possibly execution at worst. The most interesting parts of the books for me were the descriptions of 18th century male gay life in London.
Historical fiction is, I think, the most difficult genre to get right. The author has to balance the need to explain the customs and mindset of the past to the reader while, at the same time, allowing the characters to react naturally to the things and events around them. Historical mysteries dial everything up a notch by adding the requirements of believable crime solving to the mix. Gabaldon balances all these elements well and her Lord John Grey stories are the work of a master craftswoman.
The Lord John Grey stories are set as stand alones and are told in a mix of short stories, novels, and novellas. You can start with the first story in the series–“Lord John and the Hellfire Club”–or you can start where I did which is “Lord John and the Private Matter”. My favorite story is “Lord John and the Succubus” just because it deals with Germany. Here’s a listing of the stories in order. “The Custom of the Army” and “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” are published in the Outlander collection Trail of Fire.
I highly recommend the Lord John Grey series to anyone who enjoys a good historical mystery.