Originally, the short story was published simply as "Hellfire" in Past Poisons: An Ellis Peters Memorial Anthology of Historical Crime (ed. Maxim Jakubowski) in 1998. In 2007, it was published with two other Lord John novellas in the collection Lord John and the Hand of Devils.
It is the autumn of 1756, and Lord John Grey, lately returned from his exile in the north of Scotland, is reacquainting himself with the hustle and bustle of London society when he witnesses the murder of a recent acquaintance. With the perpetrator in the wind, and slanderous accusations against the deceased borne on the tide of gossip, Grey finds himself drawn into Sir Francis Dashwood's notorious Hellfire Club in search of answers. Grey also encounters a man from his past, one George Everett, whose knowledge of Grey's own dangerous secret is deeply unsettling.
John, having recently returned from Ardsmuir, is dining at the The Society for the Appreciation of the English Beefsteak with his old friend Harry Quarry. Harry introduces John to his cousin Bob Gerald, a junior secretary to the prime minster. When Harry leaves the group momentarily, Gerald hurriedly tells John that he must confide something in him, as he "can tell no one." John assures him that he'll do what he can, and promises to meet him at the Exchange that night.
Meanwhile, Harry and John make casual conversation. Harry asks after Jamie Fraser, and tells John that he suspects Jamie was involved in the death of a widely disliked sergeant. Before John can press the matter further, he and Harry see Gerald attacked and murdered in the street, though they do not see the culprit.
Two days later, Harry invites John to a party at the home of his sister-in-law,Lady Lucinda Joffrey. He tells Lord John that there were rumors that Bob Gerald was homosexual and a member of a secret society. Harry also says that before Bob's death, George Bubb-Dodington invited Bob to stay at Sir Francis Dashwood's estate in in West Wycombe, though Bob firmly declined. Lucinda refers to the West Wycombe gatherings as "a nest of vipers" and tells John that Sir Francis is a member of the rumored Hellfire Club.
While at the party, John runs into George Everett, an old lover of his. He also encounters George Bubb-Dodington, who invites him to join them for a few days in West Wycombe, and implies that George Everett recommended John. Lord John leaves the party, disturbed.
Against Quarry's advice, John travels to Medmenham in West Wycombe to stay with the group. He cautiously prods each houseguest for information on Bob Gerald, but gleans no new information. On his final night, however, John is taken from his bed by men dressed as monks. Though he can't see their faces, he knows them to be the men he's spent the last few days with, aka the other members of the Hellfire Club. John is taken into the Medmenham Abbey and given opium. After a faux-religious ceremony, John is locked in a room with a naked and drugged young woman on the floor. John is shocked further when George Everett enters the room and explains that John is supposed to sacrifice the woman as the final step in his initiation.
However, George tells John that although the Hellfire Club "hold all abomination dear," they would have turned on him had they found out he was homosexual. George goes on to say that he killed Bob Gerald to avoid being outed, and intends kill John for the same reason. George intends to make it look as though when John tried to "sacrifice" the woman, she stabbed him in the struggle.
John throws his wine at George, disorienting him. Moments later, Harry arrives and kills George.
- Lord John Grey
- Harry Quarry
- Robert Gerald, junior secretary to the prime minister
- G. Bubb-Dodington
- Jamie Fraser (mentioned only)
- Sir Richard Joffrey
- Lady Lucinda Joffrey
- George Everett
- Sir Francis Dashwood
- John Wilkes
- Mr. Churchill
- Paul Whitehead
- Lady Fitzwalter
- Earl of Sandwich
- Mr. Justice Margrave
- The cover of the Complimentary Collector's Special Edition (featuring two men dueling) appears to have been based on a plate from Domenico Angelo's L'École des armes (1763).
- ↑ See also Figure 26 of Plate VIII (Fencing [Escrime]) from Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 4 (plates): http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.446. Accessed September 2, 2016.