Gentlemen and Players feels like a significant departure from Harris’s earlier novels, including Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange, and Holy Fools. I’ve read those and enjoyed them, though I occasionally tire of Harris’s one-sided and relentless bashing of the Catholic church. But her settings (usually French, and historical) are lovely, and her female protagonists always engaging.
Gentlemen and Players brings us into a very different world — British, contemporary, male-dominated — and offers a plot driven by suspense and misdirection. The novel is set in an English boys’ school in the present day, and the alternating first-person narrators are an elderly and seasoned teacher at the school, and a newcomer who is determined to bring down the school through scandal.
Switching back and forth between the points of view of the two narrators, Harris creates a fast-paced and suspense-filled story that I found almost impossible to put down. Near the end of the novel, she begins throwing in plot twists that, to me at least, were completely unexpected and changed the way I saw the whole story. I am in awe of authors who can surprise me like this, and these were the most skilfully presented authorial surprises I’ve seen in a long time. Totally unexpected, yet when I looked back through the earlier chapters, I could see that all the clues were there — I just hadn’t picked them up. I’m not normally one for thrillers and suspense but this was a thoughtful yet fast-moving novel that kept me absorbed through an entire day of airplane and airport travel. I highly recommend it.