The Death’s Head Chess Club by John Donoghue

I was attracted to The Death’s Head Chess Club by the blurb on the back. It sounded like an interesting premise: In 1962 Emil Clement comes face to face with Paul Meissner at a chess tournament in Holland. They haven’t seen each other for nearly 20 years. They were both at Auschwitz. Clement was a Jewish inmate, forced to play chess against Nazi guards. Meissner was the SS Officer who forced him to play.

I seem to have read a fair few holocaust novels in recent years. I’m not sure whether there are more around these days or whether I’m just more interested in them, but this sounded like an intriguing new angle.

The book jumps between 1962 and the chess tournament and memories of Auschwitz. As the story unravels, it turns out there is more to Clement and Meissner’s relationship than it would first appear. But can a former Nazi and a former Auschwitz inmate ever become friends?

The book started a bit slowly for my liking and there is a fair amount of detail about chess. It’s not a bad book, but I read it after the sheer brilliance of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair and nothing was ever going to come close to that.

The pace picked up as the story moved on and I did start to enjoy it, but it was far from one of my favourite reads of the year.

I’m always attracted to the sight of five stars on a book, but on closer inspection these weren’t from The Times or Heat magazine, they were reader reviews. I’ll admit I felt slightly cheated. Call me sceptical, but you can get all of your mates to write you five star reader reviews. I certainly wouldn’t have given it five stars.

If you like holocaust novels, this would be worth a try, but otherwise I would give it a miss. There are plenty of better books out there. (Did I mention Harry Quebert?!)

The Death's Head Chess Club, Book review, John Donoghue

Author: Sarah Mummy

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10 Comments

  1. Sometimes I think the “5 stars” sometimes sets up expectations that the book can’t deliver, whether it’s readers review or otherwise. It does seem like a very interesting premise. I will have a look at Harry Quebert.

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    • If it’s five stars from a publication I trust – one of the quality newspapers or Heat magazine – I can normally rely on it to be good. Definitely have a look at Harry Quebert – it’s brilliant!

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  2. I don’t think I’ll read this one but will definitely look out for Harry Quebert after reading your review 🙂

    #readwithme

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    • Harry Quebert is definitely worth a read! This one is only for hardcore fans of World War II novels – or maybe chess fans!

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  3. it’s always hard to read a book after one you’ve just loved – it can never really match the book it comes after can it?
    #readwithme

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    • That’s very true. I probably would have enjoyed it a bit more if I hadn’t read it straight after such a brilliant book.

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    • Thanks very much! The idea appealed to me more than the reality! I have read a few holocaust novels, which I’ve enjoyed (in as much as you can enjoy something like that), but this wasn’t one of them!

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  4. I’ve never read a holocaust novel before, it sounds like this is one to miss if I decide to though. Thanks for the review, informative. x
    #readwithme

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  5. I don’t think this is a book I would choose to read honestly but I love your honest review and I always check where a book got 5 stars from these days after being fooled by reader reviews on my last book which turned out to be rubbish! #readwithme

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