St. Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys has withstood so much, from curriculum modernization to the dwindling of funds to a series of scandals buried as deep as the Board of Governors can dig. Roy Straitly has been teaching Latin there for the last thirty-three years, and nothing, he thinks, can phase him. But there’s a newbie at St. Oswald’s, seemingly innocuous and hidden in plain sight, determined to bring out old scandals while destroying the school from within. Straightly and Snyde go head to head in alternating chapters of this cat-and-mouse game.
I first experienced this book back in September 2012, on audio, for a book club. The twists in it blew me away, and I ended up going back to read it a second time in print. I wasn’t really reviewing books at the time, so my thoughts on the book consisted of only a sentence or two. My plan was to reread this one for RIP this year and mini-review it with some other rereads near the end of the event. However, a great chunk of my potential RIP reads didn’t end up working for me, and after a bunch of misses, I decided to download the audio of G&P and re-listen. Yes, despite the fact that I’d just read it. In other words, I’ve literally read this book twice in print and listened twice on audio in the last three years. Why, you may ask? Well, this (my favorite quote) might give you a hint:
A pity he has to go, really; but as my old dad might have said, you can’t make an omelet without killing people.
The whole book is filled with a light morbid humor that has me giggling constantly. Much of the narration reminded me of Nabokov’s work, which is not praise I hand out often or lightly. The characters are immaculately drawn, and I sympathize with them all (even the sociopath). I loved the back-and-forth narration, getting inside the heads of both narrators, especially the unreliable narrator. I can’t say much about the plot without giving away spoilers, but I will say it’s hands-down the most engaging mystery I’ve ever read. The big twist was completely unexpected the first time, and makes for a wonderful dual-reading-experience on follow-up reads.
Additionally, the book works well in both print and audio. While the audio, read by Stephen Pacey, is not my favorite ever, it’s still very good, and almost makes my top list of audios.
Now, I’m going to do something a little unusual with this review. My original experience listening to it was a bit unusual, but it’s not an experience I can discuss without spoilers. Because my original “review” (ie two sentences) is sitting on The Zen Leaf basically as a placeholder, I’m going to use that post to hold a spoilerific discussion of Gentlemen and Players, while using this as the primary review. So if you’re interested in spoilers, don’t care about spoilers, or have already read this book, feel free to link out to my 2012 post about Gentlemen and Players!