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Gentlemen & Players Kindle Edition
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|Length: 516 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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From the Back Cover
The place is St Oswalds, an old and long-established boys grammar school in the north of England. A new year has just begun and Roy Straitley, Latin master, eccentric, and veteran of St Oswalds, is finally reluctantly contemplating retirement. But beneath the little rivalries, petty disputes and everyday crises of the school, a darker undercurrent stirs. And a bitter grudge, hidden and carefully nurtured for thirteen years, is about to erupt.
Who is Mole, the mysterious insider whose cruel practical jokes are gradually escalating towards violence and perhaps murder? And how can an old and half-forgotten scandal become the stone that brings down a giant?--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights 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 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 - on to 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 any more.
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 lawn. 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 weathervane 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 which 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, hairspray - 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?--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- File size : 1356 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 516 pages
- Publisher : Transworld Digital; New Ed edition (30 September 2010)
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B003U6YTZ8
- Best Sellers Rank: 198,447 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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The second point of view is somewhat less obvious as, unless you guessed early on in the book, their identity is not revealed until much later in what I felt was one of the biggest twists I’ve come across in a long time (but more about that later). The mystery character is plotting revenge against St Oswald’s and all it stands for; the elite and superior within society. As we come to discover, the protagonist’s desire to take down the school and everyone in it is driven by their experience and bitterness that comes from being outside of its walls.
As the intricate story of cat vs mouse progresses it becomes increasingly dark and gripping. I personally did not guess the identity of the main character so this was a twist that really made the book in my opinion. Once I knew however, I came to realise just how cleverly written this novel was. The way the author writes makes it easy to picture the long corridors, multiple classrooms and manicured lawns to the extent that you feel like you are there.
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I have to say I wouldn’t have actually chosen to do so (thanks Book Club!). It kept me on the edge of my seat and I was thinking about it long after I turned the last page.
The book pits two narrators against each other - under the slightly clunky guise of a chess match. A Knight and a Bishop put in appearances but feel rather as if they've been shoe-horned in for effect and to try to carry a theme that doesn't deliver well. The two narrators are distinguished (for me not very well) by their chapters starting with line drawings of chess pieces. On a Kindle, it's not immediately easy to understand the significance.
The book also suffers from insufficient differences in the voices of the two protagonists but I say that about most multi-narrator books that I've read recently. And to make it more complicated, one narrator jumps back and forth between past and present.
BUT.....despite the complexity, there's an interesting story in Gentlemen & Players.
An elderly teacher, a man wedded to his school and with 33 years of teaching Latin under his belt, is struggling to deal with the bureaucracy of the school.
A young teacher with a fake CV and a grudge that needs to be settled, is trying to destroy the reputation of the school and will stop at literally nothing to bring it down. That same teacher tells of of their childhood friendship with a boy called Leon; a friendship that lies at the root of the long-held grievance against the school.
Can the old teacher work out what's going on as his school falls apart around him? Can the young one carry out their evil plot to one by one pick off the teachers who gave Leon a hard time?
I found this a bit plodding at first but once I'd got my head around what was going on, I flew through the rest of it. The big 'twist' and the shocking reveal come at 85% into the book, just as you think you've got it all worked out. As twists go, it's on a par with the big 'reveal' at the end of Londonstani - which made me laugh so hard I nearly dropped my book in the bath. This one is a bit far-fetched but it does make us realise how clever the author has been. However, once certain things that happened between the protagonist and young Leon are clarified, the whole reason for wanting to destroy the school seems to fall apart and I was left wondering why they'd gone to so much trouble.
I already bought another book that's a sequel to this and look forward to reading that.
But more importantly, this is an erudite and very suspenseful psychological thriller that (in my opinion) beats the socks off of the current crop of 'twisty' bestsellers. Harris makes the reader care about her characters -- even the supposed 'bad guys' -- and every single one is complex, three-dimensional and convincingly human. I am looking forward to meeting some of them again in the sequel (and third of her 'Malbry' novels), Different Class.
An extraordinarily enjoyable book, and one I can recommend without reservation.