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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

While I'm not a particular fan of mysteries I found GENTLEMEN AND PLAYERS by Joanne Harris, the author of CHOCOLAT, to be great escapist fare. In this highly entertaining work, Ms. Harris manages to switch genres with great ease and even greater success.
Set in an old line English prep school called St. Oswald's Grammar School, the entire story is told through the voices of two characters. The first, an anonymous narrator, who is obviously a sociopath, has returned to St. Oswald's as a teacher determined to wreak havoc on the institution for what he perceives as past betrayals. His identity is revealed only at the end of the book. The other protangonist is a classics professor named Professor Straitley, a delightful curmudgeon with a wry sense of humor and a grudge against modernity in general and computers, e-mails and the like in particular. Professor Straitley is an unlikely hero, but as an intensely loyal and dedicated teacher who loves the school he presents the major obstacle to the villain's ultimate goal--the destruction of St. Oswald's.
Their contest of wits is played out using the framework of a chess game as its motif with each chapter alternating between the viewpoint of the villain, signified by the imprint of a black pawn at the beginning of his chapter and that of the professor, designated by the imprint of the white knight at the beginning of his.
In the early chapters, the professor is an unwitting player, only aware that there are nefarious events taking place at his beloved St. Oswald's. But as the game progresses he is the only one who recognizes the danger and is able to maneuver to stop the mayhem. (Someone pointed out after I had read the book that only the knight can move both ways on a chess board)
Although I don't know much about chess, one doesn't need to in order to thoroughly enjoy the book. Despite the implausibilites in the story---and there are a number--the intricate plotting, smart pacing and the many twists and turns keep the reader turning the pages until the last deliciously clever twist--a twist I realized had been hinted at from the beginning---hidden in plain sight as it were.


Ellen said...

Being a Joanne Harris fan already I took Billie's word for it and read Gentlemen and Players. WOW! Mrs. Harris has a way of writing that just keeps you wanting more more more. The story made such an unexpected twist that I had to go back and read it several times. I then sat in my bed reviewing the entire book in my mind so the new development would make perfect sense to me. It was such a good, un-cookie-cutter mystery. Basically I didn't feel like I had just read a James Patterson or Steve Berry novel. This book was a mystery that the very literary reader could enjoy. I recommend this book to everyone.

Maggie said...

Watch it, Ellen! I really like Steve Berry's new book, The Venetian Betrayal. It is another Cotton Malone book and I think fans of the historical thriller will find it very exciting!

Ellen said...

I apologize maggie. at the time when i was writing my comment I was having a difficult time thinking of mystery authors. So lets change the steve berry to janet evanovich. I know you don't like that! ha