Gentlemen and Players

Gentlemen and Players

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by Joanne Harris, Steven Pacey
     
 

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Gentlemen AND Players Audere, agere, auferre.
To dare, to strive, to conquer.

For generations, privileged young men have attended St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, groomed for success by the likes of Roy Straitley, the eccentric Classics teacher who has been a fixture there for more than thirty years. But this year the wind of unwelcome

Overview

Gentlemen AND Players Audere, agere, auferre.
To dare, to strive, to conquer.

For generations, privileged young men have attended St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, groomed for success by the likes of Roy Straitley, the eccentric Classics teacher who has been a fixture there for more than thirty years. But this year the wind of unwelcome change is blowing, and Straitley is finally contemplating retirement. He is joined this term by five new faculty members, including one who holds intimate and dangerous knowledge of St. Oswald's ways and secrets. Harboring dark ties to the school's past, this young teacher has arrived with one terrible goal: to destroy St. Oswald's.

As the new term gets under way, a number of incidents befall students and faculty alike. Beginning as small annoyances, they are initially overlooked. But as the incidents escalate, it soon becomes apparent that a darker undercurrent is stirring within the school. With St. Oswald's unraveling, only Straitley stands in the way of its ruin. The veteran teacher faces a formidable opponent, however -- a master player with a bitter grudge and a strategy that has been meticulously planned to the final move, a secret game with very real, very deadly consequences.

A harrowing tale of cat and mouse, this riveting, hypnotically atmospheric novel showcases New York Times bestselling author Joanne Harris's astonishing storytelling talent as never before.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
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
Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal

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.
—Joyce Kessel

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.
Kirkus Reviews
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
Booklist
"[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.”
Bookseller (London)
“Very good indeed.”
Seattle Times
“Don’t start this one late in the evening, unless you plan to stay up all night. It’s that gripping.”
Chicago Tribune
“One of those rare books that grips and holds you . . . [B]oth socially important and vastly entertaining.”
Houston Chronicle
“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.”
Salon.com
“The gold standard for this year’s best mystery...[GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS] left me breathless...a delightful read.”
Hartford Courant
“Perfect escapist reading for deep winter.”
Florida Times-Union
“A cunning, high-brow cat-and-mouse tale ... [W]ill keep even the sharpest readers off-guard.”
The Independent
“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.”
Daily News
“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.”
The Guardian
“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.”
Tampa Tribune
“[A] tense, perspective-shifting narrative ... [A] page-turning climax that ... avoids the easy out of a tidy ending.”
Express
“[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.”
Independent
“A literary gobstopper with an aniseed heart.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061123283
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/10/2006
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Gentlemen and Players

A Novel
By Joanne Harris

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Joanne Harris
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060559144

Chapter One

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?

Continues...


Excerpted from Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris Copyright © 2005 by Joanne Harris. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joanne Harris is the author of seven previous novels—Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners, Holy Fools, Sleep, Pale Sister, and Gentlemen & Players; a short story collection, Jigs & Reels; and two cookbook/memoirs, My French Kitchen and The French Market. Half French and half British, she lives in England.

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Gentlemen and Players 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
onion_girl More than 1 year ago
This is the third book written by Joanne Harris that I've read and I have to say it is my favorite. As soon as I finished I wanted to go back a do it all over again. I love the character of Roy Straitley and the setting of St. Oswalds. The plot is ever compelling with twists and turns, cunning and heart. I listened to the unabridged audiobook version of this book and if you can find it I highly recommend it. I'm an avid reader of books with my eyes and my ears. I love the freedom of being able to immerse myself in a story even while driving, grocery shopping or cleaning the house. What made the audiobook version of this novel stand out was the rich baritone of Steven Pacey delivering Ms. Harris' fluid and intelligent prose. This book shares the texture and community of Dead Poet's Society while being unique in it's plot and characters. Roy Straitley has some outstandingly snarky sotto voce lines in the story that gave me to giggling and lent the character a depth and warmth that made him approachable even for a female reader half his age. Read this book, listen to this book...whatever you do don't miss this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Audere. Agere. Auferre. ¿To dare, to strive, to conquer¿ is the motto of St. Oswald¿s School, setting of this brilliant two-person POV novel by the half-British, half-French author of Chocolat. In that motto lay not only the raison d¿être of the villain, but also a major identity clue. Almost nothing is what it seems in this beautifully written high-stakes tale of revenge. The revelations and reversals require careful reading. Manipulative? Yes. But then any author who names her characters as if they were in a morality play is openly inviting the reader to pay close attention.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even if you figure out the "twist" before the end, you will enjoy this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had trouble putting this book down. The portrait of the stuffy old English boys' school in decline rolled around my head the way you let a fine wine swirl around your mouth, always sure you have missed a hint of some other flavor. Though I was able to figure out what was happening before the ending, I really enjoyed the ride and frequently was almost convinced I was wrong. Loved the book. One of her best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took a bit to get into this book but once I did it was difficult to put it down.
Stemline More than 1 year ago
As the jacket blurb says, there are enough plot twists to keep you almost permanently off balance, although the book is not truly a mystery. The depiction of an elite private school is interesting to those of us who have never attended one.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Joanne Harris won high praise her debut novel 'Chocolat' (1999), which was later made into a feature film. The books that followed, especially 'Five Quarters of the Orange' attracted more readers. . For me, she's one of those authors who just keeps getting better and better as time goes on. Proof? The compelling, suspenseful 'Gentlemen and Players.' Set at an exclusive school in England, St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, we're introduced to two teachers, the venerable classics professor, Roy Straitley, and a younger teacher. After 30 years at St. Oswald's, a school he loves, Straitley is on the verge of retirement. There are too many changes in the wind - five new faculty members, the advent of computers, advanced technology he's ready to turn teaching over to younger hands. However, the peaceful, golden days of retirement begin to fade when the usual serenity of St. Oswald's is interrupted by a series of inconvenient incidents. Nothing to really become exercised about - a missing coffee cup, a straying pen. Would that were all. The story turns darker when we learn that the new teacher has come to St. Oswald's with one goal in mind - to destroy the school by whatever means necessary. He harbors an old grudge against the school and means to be revenged. Harris's mixture of academia with all its conventions and the duel for the future of St. Oswald's between Straitley and a psychotic master strategist result in a riveting story. There could not be a better actor to serve as reader than British thespian Steven Pacey. He easily inhabits the personas of the older Straitley and the younger man bent on destruction as the story unfolds in alternate narrative voices. Pacey achieves nuances of the patrician with Straitley, and dark obsession with the teacher intent on vengeance. Hard to find a more enjoyable or compelling listening experience! - Gail Cooke
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webmaven More than 1 year ago
very evocative of the period. surprising plot twists. interesting characters
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If you love stories of England past, as I do, then this is for you. Good character development so I THOUGHT I could picture the characters and hear their voices, except for the KILLER! Totally fooled. Fun book with great ending.
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nprfan1 More than 1 year ago
To paraphrase an old saying, if you choose to pick up this book you will never know who the players are without a scorecard.

Well, on one side, anyway. The name of the player on the other side is quite clear - Roy Straitley, master of classics and Latin at St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys for over thirty years, and apparently the self-appointed defender of the school and its way of life when several unexplained incidents occur in the latest term. They range from the minor - the theft of an expensive Mont Blanc pen and a coffee mug - to the major - the dismissal or near-dismissal of several teachers at the school due to scandals which have no basis in fact, but are believed by the locals, the press, and the news media due to various idiosyncracies among the staff.

These idiosyncracies are used by the player on the other side - the child of a school porter of fifteen years ago - to carry out a plot to destroy the school from within, a plot generated because of perceived wrongs done to that child when growing up.

To say any more would spoil the surprises you'll find if you read the book, but be warned that Joanne Harris throws out a lot of red herrings throughout this story and you won't really be sure who Straitley's opponent is until Harris literally throws it in your face.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago