Constantly surprising and wickedly fun, this revenge tale is told by two narrators in alternating chapters that begin at the start of the school year at St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys in England. … Beyond the book's considerable entertainment value, Harris has written an unsettling reminder of how much our orderly lives depend on a fragile level of trust. Little grains of dishonesty and malice sprinkled in the gears of an organization are almost impossible to detect but can bring down the whole structure.
The Washington Post
At the heart of Harris's riveting new book is a major secret, and veteran British stage actor Pacey does everything in his power not to give away even the slightest hint of it to audio listeners. Pacey plays both sides of the story's central chess match for the soul of a posh British boy's school with equal energy and wit, bringing to life the sad and troubled outsider Snyde, who wants so badly to be a student at St. Oswald's, and the deeply embedded classics master Roy Straitley, who cares for the school's future more than he will admit. As the two duel on the chessboard of life for St. Oswald's reputation, Pacey growls and whimpers with so much vitality that it's hard to take sides. Even when the two change into something else-when Snyde turns into a frightening killer and Straitley's inertia and antiestablishment leanings threaten to overwhelm him- we always know who is speaking, and why. Minor characters are also vividly drawn: rival masters reek with chalk and bad habits, a boy Snyde loves becomes a natural betrayer, and parents are always credible if not admirable figures. This is verbal magic of the highest order, the kind every author deserves but doesn't always get. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 31). (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
St. Oswald's School for Boys is under siege by a new faculty member who has a secret history with the school and will use every trick and bit of knowledge about it—its past and layout—to create a tightly wound knot of revenge. Narrated by both the revenge-seeking instructor and veteran classics teacher Roy Straitley, this book moves skillfully between the two perspectives and between past and present in a well-crafted mystery. Harris shows a deep understanding of the politics of academia and the routine of the classroom, as well as the demands of a solid mystery. Listeners will be rewarded with surprises and twists in this well-paced tale, read by Steven Pacey. Highly recommended.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Three voices are heard in this tale of a venerable English boys' school. One belongs to Roy Straitley, a veteran teacher of classics. Another is that of a teacher who has just arrived at St. Oswald's with the malicious intent of bringing it down through well-placed rumor and cunning innuendo. The third is that of a child from 14 years earlier who loves the school but does not belong to it. He even assumes an alter identity, Julian Pinchbeck, complete with uniform, in order to roam the school at will and as much as possible escape the painful reality of life with his loutish father, its porter. Then he makes a friend at St. Oswald's and at last has someone from his chosen world with whom to spend his time. But everything unravels with the death of Julian's adored friend. Now the teacher who was the child Julian returns. Harris shows what a master storyteller she is through the play and counterplay of current happenings twisting through the telling of what went on before. The story builds suspensefully and cleverly with surprises and turns to a satisfying denouement.-Judy Braham, George Mason Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Harris (Five Quarters of the Orange, 2001, etc.) tries her hand at homicide. Her latest recounts a life-and-death struggle for the soul of a posh school for boys. It's a mystery, of sorts, one fueled more by dramatic irony and ostensibly shocking twists than by any real suspense, since the reader knows from the start that very bad things are about to happen. The story has two narrators, one who has given his life to St. Oswald's and one determined to destroy it. Latin teacher Roy Straitley is irascible and recalcitrant, but he's utterly loyal to St. Oswald's and his students love him. The crusty old master is a cliche, but Straitley is canny enough to recognize himself as a type. He's beset on many fronts-the German department has taken over his office and the headmaster is constantly nagging him to check his e-mail-but the curmudgeon doesn't recognize his deadliest adversary until it's almost too late. The aforementioned antagonist is the novel's second narrator and its villain. The shifty individual sometimes known as Snyde arrives at St. Oswald's as the offspring of the school porter and returns, bent on destruction, in the guise of a teacher. Murder is a strong subject for an author best known for literary confectionery, and allowing a sociopath to take over storytelling duties for more than half the novel is a brave move. Unfortunately, Harris is more bold than successful. Socioeconomic inequities, neglect at home, bullying at school, unrequited love: These are all presented as sources of Snyde's cold and calculating rage, but they're just the handy rationalizations of a fatally narcissistic creep. The problem with giving Snyde a narrative soapbox is that the more the reader knowsabout this character, the less plausible this character becomes. A daring gambit, poorly played. Agent: Howard Morhaim/Howard Morhaim Literary Agency
"[Harris] turns to the literary thriller, with stunning results . . . This is one hypnotic page-turner."
Time Magazines Educational Supplement
"A strong psychological mystery."
Times Educational Supplement
“A strong psychological mystery.”
“Very good indeed.”
“Don’t start this one late in the evening, unless you plan to stay up all night. It’s that gripping.”
“One of those rare books that grips and holds you . . . [B]oth socially important and vastly entertaining.”
“Riveting . . . The checkmate is a bold stroke so audacious as to send readers, including this one, backtracking.”
Booklist (starred review)
“[Harris] turns to the literary thriller, with stunning results . . . This is one hypnotic page-turner.”
Time Out London
“A complex, well-crafted murder mystery, with its author’s trademark blend of wit, wisdom and magic.”
“The gold standard for this year’s best mystery...[GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS] left me breathless...a delightful read.”
“Perfect escapist reading for deep winter.”
“A cunning, high-brow cat-and-mouse tale ... [W]ill keep even the sharpest readers off-guard.”
“Fun with a neat twist ... it’s a bit like A.J. Wentworth squaring up to the talented Mr. Ripley.”
Sunday Times (London)
“[An] enjoyable mystery romp.”
Daily Telegraph (London)
“[A] clever story of obsession and revenge . . . .[Harris] has scored another success.”
“With GENTLEMEN & PLAYERS Harris has tapped an unsuspected talent for writing sophisticated, absorbing suspense.”
Washington Post Book World
“Irresistible . . . Constantly surprising and wickedly fun.”
Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press
“[A] masterful literary thriller.”
“Harris pulls it all off . . . Book groups of the world, watch out.”
Mail on Sunday
“Far darker than Chocolat author Harris’s previous books, this canny page-turner comes with a satisfying twist.”
“[A] tense, perspective-shifting narrative ... [A] page-turning climax that ... avoids the easy out of a tidy ending.”
“[A] gripping psychological thriller. . . . [Harris] cleverly keeps the reader guessing till the very last chapter.
New York Times Book Review
“Best of all is a dazzling climactic twist . . . . its last move is a winner.”
“A literary gobstopper with an aniseed heart.”
Read an Excerpt
Gentlemen and Players A Novel
By Joanne Harris
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2005 Joanne Harris
All right reserved.
If there's one thing I've learned in the past fifteen years, it's this: that murder is really no big deal. It's just a boundary, meaningless and arbitrary as all others -- a line drawn in the dirt.
Like the giant no trespassers sign on the drive to St. Oswald's, straddling the air like a sentinel. I was nine years old at the time of our first encounter, and it loomed over me then with the growling menace of a school bully. no trespassers
no unauthorized entry beyond this point by order
Another child might have been daunted by the command. But in my case curiosity overrode the instinct. By whose order? Why this point and not another? And most importantly, what would happen if I crossed that line?
Of course I already knew the school was out of bounds. By then I'd been living in its shadow for six months, and already that tenet stood tall among the commandments of my young life, as laid down by John Snyde. Don't be a sissy. Look after your own. Work hard, play hard. A little drink never did anyone any harm. And, most importantly, Stay clear of St. Oswald's, occasionally punctuated by a Stay bloody clear if you know what's good for you, or a warning punch to the upper arm. The punches were supposed to be friendly, I knew. All the same, they hurt. Parenting was not one of John Snyde's special skills.
Nevertheless, for the first few months I obeyed without question. Dad was so proud of his new job as Porter; such a fine old school, such a great reputation, and we were going to live in the Old Gatehouse, where generations of Porters before us had lived. There would be tea on the lawn on summer evenings, and it would be the beginning of something wonderful. Perhaps, when she saw how well we were doing now, Mum might even come home.
But weeks passed, and none of that happened. The gatehouse was a Grade 2 listed building, with tiny, latticed windows that let in hardly any light. There was a perpetual smell of damp, and we weren't allowed a satellite dish because it would have lowered the tone. Most of the furniture belonged to St. Oswald's -- heavy oak chairs and dusty dressers -- and next to them our own things -- salvaged from the old council flat on Abbey Road -- looked cheap and out of place. My dad's time was entirely taken up with his new job, and I quickly learned to be self-reliant -- to make any demand, such as regular meals or clean sheets, qualified as being a sissy -- not to trouble my father at weekends, and always to lock my bedroom door on Saturday nights.
Mum never wrote; any mention of her also counted as being a sissy, and after a while I started to forget what she had looked like. My dad had a bottle of her perfume hidden under his mattress, though, and when he was out on his rounds, or down the Engineers with his mates, I would sometimes sneak into his bedroom and spray a little of that perfume -- it was called Cinnabar -- onto my pillow and maybe pretend that Mum was watching TV in the next room, or that she'd just popped into the kitchen to get me a cup of milk and that she'd be back to read me a story. A bit stupid, really: she'd never done those things when she was home. Anyway, after a bit, Dad must have thrown the bottle away, because one day it was gone, and I couldn't even remember how she'd smelled anymore.
Christmas approached, bringing bad weather and even more work for the porter to deal with, so we never did get to have tea on the lawns. On the other hand, I was happy enough. A solitary child even then; awkward in company; invisible at school. During the first term I kept to myself; stayed out of the house; played in the snowy woods behind St. Oswald's and explored every inch of the school's perimeter -- making sure never to cross the forbidden line.
I discovered that most of St. Oswald's was screened from public view; the main building by a long avenue of linden trees -- now bare -- which bordered the drive, and the land surrounded on all sides by walls and hedges. But through the gates I could see those lawns -- mowed to banded perfection by my father -- the cricket grounds with their neat hedges; the chapel with its weather vane and its inscriptions in Latin. Beyond that lay a world as strange and remote in my eyes as Narnia or Oz; a world to which I could never belong.
My own school was called Abbey Road Juniors; a squat little building on the council estate, with a bumpy playground built on a slant and two entrance gates with boys and girls written above them in sooty stone. I'd never liked it; but even so I dreaded my arrival at Sunnybank Park, the sprawling comprehensive that I was destined by postcode to attend.
Since my first day at Abbey Road I'd watched the Sunnybankers -- cheap green sweatshirts with the school logo on the breast, nylon rucksacks, fag ends, hair spray -- with growing dismay. They would hate me, I knew it. They would take one look at me and they would hate me. I sensed it immediately. I was skinny; undersized; a natural hander-in of homework. Sunnybank Park would swallow me whole.
I pestered my father. "Why? Why the Park? Why there?"
"Don't be a sissy. There's nothing wrong with the Park, kid. It's just a school. They're all the bloody same."
Well, that was a lie. Even I knew that. It made me curious; it made me resentful. And now, as spring began to quicken over the bare land and white buds burst from the blackthorn hedges, I looked once more at that no trespassers sign, painstakingly lettered in my father's hand, and asked myself: Whose ORDER? Why this point and not another? And, with an increasing sense of urgency and impatience: What would happen if I crossed that line?
Excerpted from Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris Copyright © 2005 by Joanne Harris. Excerpted by permission.
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