Gentlemen and Players (audio)

Could there be a more unlikely hero than Roy Straitley? A 65-year-old Classics teacher at St. Oswold’s Grammar School for Boys, Straitley comes across as a self-righteous curmudgeon who’s too behind the times. When the term begins, Straitley must deal with losing his office, sharing his classroom, and getting criticized constantly for his treatment of his students.

Straitley’s unnamed opponent is also a St. Oswold’s teacher, one who is bent on revenge for a long-ago wrong that the school committed. As the story unfolds, we learn what happened in the past while we watch the current revenge plot take shape, beginning with missing coffee mugs, moving on to damaging computer hacks, a missing student, and more.

Straitley and his opponent take turns telling the story, a technique that Joanne Harris handles here with great success. I often find that in books with multiple narrators, one character is much more charismatic and interesting than the other, which causes huge chunks of the book to drag, but I enjoyed hearing from both narrators in this book. Sir Derek Jabobi was the reader for the audiobook, and he was certainly up to the task of altering his voice so that the two narrators were distinct from each other.

My main criticism of the book has to do with the solution to the question of the unnamed narrator’s identity. (I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but it’s hard to talk about without dropping some big hints, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph.) I guessed the identity of the narrator about halfway through, although it isn’t revealed until near the end, and I kept hoping I was wrong because it seemed stupid and gimmicky. Why can’t we just have straightforward thrillers without a twist anymore? However, it is to Joanne Harris’s credit that she managed to pull off the twist without it seeming totally ridiculous. My annoyance wore off fairly quickly, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the story.

My other complaint has to do not with this book per se, but with audiobooks in general. Why, why, why, won’t all audiobook publishers put a “this ends disc x” message at the end of the disc so we can know it’s time to switch? Is that so hard? That interrupts the story far less than hearing a repeated bit, thinking, “This sounds familiar. Which track am I on?” then checking the CD player, realizing I’m back in chapter one, then switching the disc. (And by now I’ve forgotten what was said at the end of the just-finished disc.)

Also, why can’t they all have track divisions that are shorter that 15 or 20 minutes? This book drove me crazy because if I missed something I’d often have to go back 15 minutes, so I gave up on that. I don’t mind going back 3 minutes, but 15? I don’t think so.

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