A teacher at a fancy British boys' boarding school begins to investigate a series of accidents and near death occurrences in the school community, and suspects one of the new teachers when he connects the incidents to an old death that happened at the school many years ago. Growing up I enjoyed reading boarding school stories, but Gentlemen and Players is a much more mature and interesting tale. The protagonist, Roy Straitley, is an honest and trustworthy teacher at a private boys' boarding school called St. Oswald's. There are several new teachers joining the school as the story starts.
Click here to see the rest of this review
Roy starts to notice that things aren't quite right at school. Objects start to go missing from teachers' rooms and students' rooms. A student nearly dies in a riding accident from a sabotaged saddle, and other students and teachers have narrow escapes from death as they fall down stairs or narrowly avoid being poisoned. The German teacher is exposed as a homosexual, and another teacher is framed as a pedophile when child pornography is found on his computer. An atmosphere of fear, suspicion, suspected depravity and confusion descends on the school, and nobody knows who is behind this. One of the new teachers, Chris Keane, is somehow always missing around the times each near-death takes place or in the vicinity of an office or dormitory whenever an object goes missing, so Roy starts to suspect that Chris is the culprit.
Meanwhile, the reader gets an anonymous narrative from the actual culprit and potential murderer, who calls himself Julian Pinchbeck. Julian was the son of St. Oswald's caretaker many years ago and deceived his way into the school as a student when he was a boy, using the false name Julian Pinchbeck. He had experiences at St. Oswald's that triggered his innate pathological tendencies and made him hate the school. This was because he had a homosexual relationship with another boy named Leon, but it goes awry when Leon, apparently overcome by guilt, calls Julian a pervert. When the two boys are nearly discovered meeting on a roof of the school, they hastily try to run and hide and in the process, Leon slips and falls from the roof to his death. Their relationship was never found out but Julian's father kills himself in grief and guilt over one of his charges dying, and Julian runs away.
Now Julian says he is back, and pretending to be a teacher while getting vengeance on the school, St. Oswald's. Now, under the name of Julian Pinchbeck, the culprit is sending false stories about St. Oswald's to the local papers, and Roy begins to realize that Julian Pinchbeck is the culprit, and likely Chris Keane. He looks up the name and comes up with the story of the boy whose name was associated with Leon's death, and who was then never found again. He asks around and nobody in the grounds today seems to have remembered a Julian Pinchbeck. However does discover that the caretaker's child was named Julia, although at first this does not make him understand the truth.
It is only when Roy tries to warn the woman he suspects is Chris' next victim, a female French teacher at the school named Diane Dare, that he puts two and two together and realizes, from her description and her recent arrival at the school and her movements over the past term, that he is talking to Julia - aka, Julian Pinchbeck, who we discover is actually a woman. When Roy, horrified, confronts Diane with this information, she admits it. She grows quietly enraged, frightening Julian as she tells him that she deliberately pushed Leon off the roof after he rejected her and because he was falling for another girl, and then tells him that she has stabbed Chris to death. However, when Diane tries to stab Roy as well, he manages to fend her off and shouts for help, starting her. She must now flee as Roy threatens to call the police. He rushes to Chris' room but Chris, still conscious, has just managed to call an ambulance. Chris and Roy survive, but Diane is not caught. They find out that she escaped to France, but they never manage to find her.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved the setting as boarding schools are fun to explore maturity/coming of age issues as well as class barrier issues.
Best scene in story:
whenever Roy swears at someone in Latin. It's very pretentious and elitist, and lends to the flavor of the class tension and snobbery problems that permeate the book.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that he's not a typical protagonist/hero. He's an average, ordinary man without great looks but with a smart, nerdy brain, who cares about his students, and it is rare to see a protagonist like that in a crime novel.