Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

All lucky streaks come to an end, although it would be very unfair to dub Gentlemen and Players a failure: it certainly reads well and keeps the reader turning the pages as the diabolical plot to destroy St. Oswald, an English private school, unfolds. If I had enjoyed Harry Potter a bit more I could probably say that the atmosphere is similar (uniforms, weird buildings, “forms” and “houses”) and there’s a whiff of Dan Brown in the way the intrigue twists around itself until the reader is not quite sure where it started. There’s the great character of the aging Classics teacher, Mr. Straitley, with his hard-earned wisdom (such as never show the students real anger, only manufactured anger — so true), his fights with the newfangled computer system, and his deep love of students.

But on the other hand some characters just don’t make sense. Can a slain student’s mother turn so swiftly from twittering snob to dedicated school secretary — at the school her son attended? I think not. Can the evil plotter fool Mr. Straitley almost to the end? And naturally there’s the trouble with the computer: just like in Rancid Pansies the part the computers play in the story seems made up, pasted on to make the novel sound more modern. All this talk of viruses and such is just not quite exact and distracts from the story, as does the complicated business with a missing student’s cell phone from which threatening calls are made. And surely the cell phone company would triangulate its location lickety-split under a police investigation. So the book didn’t quite work for me despite the clever plot.

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