Lord John and the Private Matter is the first novel in the Lord John Series by Diana Gabaldon. It was first published in 2003. Chronologically, the novel follows Lord John's tale in the novella "Lord John and the Hellfire Club", and is followed by another novella, "Lord John and the Succubus".
It begins when Lord John sees something shocking in his London club—and it takes a lot to shock Lord John, given his own background and experiences. He’s a younger son of a noble family, a career soldier, an honorable and intelligent man—and a homosexual, in a time when being homosexual was a capital offense. If his private life is ever discovered, everything he cares about will be destroyed, and very likely, so will he. Consequently, his investigations into the shocking occurrence at The Society for the Appreciation of the English Beefsteak, and the subsequent murder of a woman in a green velvet dress are hedged with personal danger and constant risk—a risk he’ll take for the sake of his loyalties to family and regiment.
In June 1757, John Grey is relieving himself beside Joseph Trevelyan at The Society for the Appreciation of the English Beefsteak when he notices that Trevelyan has a small sore on his penis. This rather frustrates Lord John, as Trevelyan is engaged to be married to John's own cousin, Olivia Pearsall, and John now feels the duty to investigate Trevelyan's character.
Stubbs and Lord John call upon Timothy O'Connell's widow, Francine O'Connell. Her husband has beaten her badly in the past and she's pregnant by her landlord, Finbar Scanlon. When Lord John tells this to Harry Quarry, Harry reveals that he and John's brother Hal Grey believed Timothy O'Connell to be a spy and had been having him followed by Jack Byrd, the footman of Hal's friend Joseph Trevelyan. Jack Byrd is also missing.
The next morning, Jack's brother Tom Byrd arrives and falsely claims that Trevelyan has sent Tom help Lord John with the O'Connell matter. Together, Lord John and Tom view O'Connell's body, and Tom quickly proves a valuable assistant. Though Lord John finds out that Tom has lied after seeing Trevelyan at his mother's house that very evening, he elects to keep Tom as a valet.
The following week, Lord John and Harry visit Trevelyan's favorite brothel to see if any of the women remember him being diseased. The madam, Magda, sends a young Nessie for Lord John. After a rocky start, the two strike up a friendship. That night, a drunk Lord John remembers of his relationship with Hector Dalrymple and Culledon.
The next morning, Nessie tells Lord John that she's seen Trevelyan enter Magda's room and later leave in velvet green dress. A chairman friend of Nessie's, Rabbie MacNab, tells Lord John that he took "the woman in green" to Lavender House, a molly-house in a seedy part of town. After some persuasion, Lavender House's proprietor, Richard Caswell, tells Lord John that Trevelyan has a permanent room at Lavender House. He also mentions that Trevelyan frequently brings a dark-haired German woman with him. Before leaving Lavender House, Lord John meets and has sex with Percy Wainwright.
Later that week, Lord John and Harry meet with Hubert Bowles, a spymaster who confirms that O'Connell was indeed a spy and who slightly unnerves Lord John.
That same day, Constable Magruder summons Lord John after finding a dead woman in the same green dress Trevelyan was seen wearing. They quickly realize that the woman is in fact a man.
Lord John visits Trevelyan and insists that Trevelyan respectfully break off his engagement with Olivia on the grounds of his connection to the dead "woman" and Lavender House, as well as Trevelyan's syphilis. Trevelyan initially denies everything, but at last agrees to break off the betrothal.
Having noticed that both the brothel and Lavender House serve the same unusual German wine, Lord John obtains a list of buyers and visits Stephan von Namtzen to ask if he recognizes any of the names. Stephan recognizes one name, Reinhardt Mayrhofer, and his description of Mayhofer matches the dead man found in the green velvet dress. But before Lord John ask any other questions, he falls abruptly ill. Lord John realizes that Trevelyan had poisoned him at their earlier meeting and intends to flee the country.
When Lord John awakes nearly a day later, Lord John, Stephan Von Namtzen, and Tom race to the house of Reinhardt Mayrhofer, where they learn that neither Mayrhofer nor his wife Maria have been seen for several days.
With the help of Hubert Bowles's assistant, Neil Stapleton, Lord John finds Trevelyan aboard one of his own ships, the Nampara, along with Jack Byrd, Finbar Scanlon, and extremely ill Maria Mayrhofer. However, in his haste to arrest Trevelyan, Lord John doesn't notice the ship departing until too late.
While aboard the Nampara, Trevelyan tells Lord John that he had begun an affair with Maria Mayrhofer a year before. During the affair, he learned Maria's husband was spying for the Austrians. When Hal came to him looking for someone to follow O'Connell, Trevelyan sent Jack Byrd. Trevelyan and Jack attempted to engineer things so that O'Connell would sell his information to Mayrhofer, killing two birds with one stone. When O'Connell became suspicious that Trevelyan was setting him up, he returned to his home to store the stolen papers at his wife's home. While there, he beat his pregnant wife nearly to death, angering Finbar Scanlon and Jack Byrd. They took the papers from O'Connell's chosen hiding place, and when O'Connell returned that night to retrieve the papers, they brutally murder him in retribution.
Meanwhile, Maria had learned that Reinhart had given her syphilis (which she had unwittingly passed to Trevelyan). An angry and despondent Maria killed Reinhart. Trevelyan and Jack Byrd had disposed of the body, using the green velvet dress to disguise him as a mere prostitute.
Trevelyan is now absconding to India with Jack Byrd and Maria. Scanlon has come along to care for Maria, whom he has deliberately infected with malaria in a last-ditch attempt to cure her syphilis.
Despite his initial intensions to arrest Trevelyan, Grey has sympathy for those involved and elects not to pursue the matter further. When a British troopship bound for London approaches the Nampara, Lord John and the Bryd brothers are allowed to board it, leaving Trevelyan, Scanlon, and Maria to their own devices.
- Lord John Grey
- Harry Quarry
- Malcolm Stubbs
- Tom Byrd
- Joseph Trevelyan
- Timothy O'Connell
- Finbar Scanlon
- Francine O'Connell Scanlon
- Constable Magruder
- Iphigenia Stokes
- Reverend Cobb
- Olivia Pearsall
- Lady Mumford
- Benedicta Grey
- Stephan von Namtzen
- Harold Grey (flashback)
- Hector (flashback)
- Hubert Bowles
- Percy Wainwright
- Neil Stapleton
- Richard Caswell
- Maria Mayrhofer
- Jack Byrd
- Rabbie MacNab
- Reinhardt Mayrhofer
- The audiobook recording of Private Matter, narrated by Jeff Woodman, received AudioFile Magazine's Earphones Award.