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The Death's Head Chess Club by John Donoghue

The Death's Head Chess Club

Historical Fiction   Literary Fiction   eBook Favourites   
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One of our Books of the Year 2015.

A captivating, moving and skilfully expressive novel, set between 1935 and 1962, focusing on guilt, forgiveness and the linked lives of three men. Although this is a fictional story, it has a firm base in history, with much of the novel taking place in the labour camp of Auschwitz-III Monowitz. The first few paragraphs detail Auschwitz with such raw descriptive precision, the cold, the hunger, the weariness, the instinctive battle for survival are set in stone. The camp is an animal like entity, it is alert to change, is able to sense danger and has a cunning of it’s own. John Donoghue allows the story to shift around in time, encouraging understanding to grow as information is revealed. The storyline subtly edges through the obvious and shocking, towards a path of compassion and recognition. This battleground of chess pieces cleverly balances an almost documentary style with an intensely intimate story, making this a beautifully readable and emotional story. ~ Liz Robinson

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

  • Gary Simkins - 'A truly captivating yet heart-wrenching story of cruelty, hatred and the ultimate forgiveness.'
  • Alli Batten - 'What a fantastic book! It’s always a joy to pick up a book by a new author and to love every page of it. I really hope there are more novels to look forward to from such a talented writer.'
  • Emily Curnow - 'This is a compulsive novel of redemption and forgiveness. The characters are fleshed out beautifully and are completely believable. Although it makes for uncomfortable reading, you cannot help but read it entirely to the conclusion.'
  • Deborah Mika - 'There is a chess competition taking place in Amsterdam where 2 former Nazis and a Jew meet. The story is beautifully told and I think a must read.'
  • Janette Skinner - 'One of the best books I have read all year. Very emotive plot and authentic characters. There is no way not to get totally involved in this story.'
  • Anne Rhodes - 'Definitely, quite definitely, a book to be read from cover to cover...and then to be read again. A book to talk about, to share with other booklovers, to discuss.'
  • Kathy Howell - 'This is a very thought provoking book which has been well written and well researched.'
  • Mary Gibson - 'This novel is a disturbing but enthralling, impeccably researched, a tale of an unlikely friendship between two men meant to be enemies.'
  • Farah Alam - 'It's engaging and stays with you long after you've finished it. It is probably one of the best of the books I've read on WW2 fiction so far.'
  • Lee Ruddin - '...those who do not consider the author’s exhaustive research exhausting will find his tale of tolerance triumphing over intolerance, peppered as it is with poetic prose, a life-affirming one.'


The Death's Head Chess Club by John Donoghue

SS Obersturmfuhrer Paul Meissner arrives in Auschwitz from the Russian front. After being badly wounded he is fit only for administrative duty and his first and most pressing task is to improve flagging camp morale. He sets up a chess club which thrives, as the officers and enlisted men are allowed to gamble on the results of the games. However, when Meissner learns from a chance remark that chess is also played by the prisoners he hears of a Jewish watchmaker who is 'unbeatable'. Meissner sets out to discover the truth behind this rumour and what he finds will haunt him to his death...

About the Author

John Donoghue

John Donoghue has worked in mental health for over twenty years and written numerous articles about the treatment of mental illness in a variety of medical journals. He is married and lives in Liverpool.

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Book Info

Publication date

3rd September 2015


John Donoghue

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Atlantic Books


400 pages


Historical Fiction
Literary Fiction
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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