St Oswald’s is a prestigious grammar school for boys. As one more winter semester is about to begin, the reader is introduced to its staff and pupils, through the eyes of Roy Straitley, a 65 year-old Latin teacher from the old school, a man with a sense of humor and a keen eye for observing people. It will not take a long time for him to notice that what happens in the school is more than the usual trouble or incident. He soon realizes that his unease is not only related to the fact that his office has been given over to the German department, or that some of his colleagues would like him to retire. Straitley progressively feels that what is happening (things disappearing, scandals emerging, etc.) is commanded by a darker force at work, a movement that has its roots in the past of a school with a few skeletons in its closets.

Indeed, from the start, Straitley’s narration alternates with the voice of someone who has serious grudges against the school, grudges that go back to almost fifteen years before, and this person, who thinks it is pay-back time, has managed to join the staff of the school and will stop at nothing to bring St Oswald down…

Gentlemen & Players, is a very clever and well-plotted novel, packed with suspense and great twists. The two main characters are really fascinating, one as the revengeful villain with an intricate personality, and the other an old-fashioned teacher who refuses to uses computers, a man at the same time stubborn and facetious, severe and compassionate, and a good judge of human nature, but not impervious to error…

Gentlemen & Players reminded me a little of The Flanders Panel, by Arturo Perez-Reverte, for the tightly-plotted story but also for its allusions to the game of chess, and because both authors have managed the difficult task to write a thriller with a sense of humor. Joanne Harris, whose other novels I have yet to read, writes very convincingly and has done a very good job misleading the reader…

Rating: 4,5/5