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Extended Audio Sample The Death’s Head Chess Club, by John Donoghue Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: John Donoghue Narrator: Stefan Rudnicki Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Debut author John Donoghue presents a suspenseful new novel about the improbable friendship between a Nazi officer and a Jewish chess player in Auschwitz.

SS Obersturmführer Paul Meissner arrives in Auschwitz from the Russian front wounded and fit only for administrative duty. His most pressing task is to improve camp morale, so he establishes a chess club and allows officers and enlisted men to gamble on the games. Soon Meissner learns that chess is also played among the prisoners, and there are rumors of an unbeatable Jew known as “the Watchmaker.” Meissner’s superiors begin to demand that he demonstrate German superiority by pitting this undefeated Jew against the best Nazi players. Meissner finds Emil Clément, the Watchmaker, and a curious relationship arises between them. As more and more games are played, the stakes rise, and the two men find their fates deeply entwined.

Twenty years later, the two meet again in Amsterdam. Meissner has become a bishop, and Emil is playing in an international chess tournament. Having lost his family in the horrors of the death camps, Emil wants nothing to do with the ex-Nazi officer despite their history, but Meissner is persistent. “What I hope,” he tells Emil, “is that I can help you to understand that the power of forgiveness will bring healing.” As both men search for a modicum of peace, they recall a gripping tale of survival and trust.

A suspenseful meditation on understanding and guilt, John Donoghue’s The Death’s Head Chess Club is a bold debut and a rich portrait of a surprising friendship.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Stefan Rudnicki…performs this deeply absorbing, tensely plotted novel with exquisite skill—never overplaying, never failing in attention—and his somber baritone has exactly the right gravity for the material. The novel moves back and forth between a World Chess Championship tournament in Amsterdam in 1962 and a period when the lives of the three main characters entwined once before, in 1944 in Auschwitz. Not surprisingly, the story explores issues of guilt and whether forgiveness or understanding accomplish anything, and of luck, skill, courage, and the presence (or not) of God in the world.”


  • “Raves about this first novel.”

    Library Journal

  • “Building his story by switching back and forth between the 1940s and 1960s and providing an impressive amount of detail…about both chess and the workings of Auschwitz, Donoghue offers a compelling tale of expiation and forgiveness.”


  • An AudioFile Earphones Award Winner
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About the Author

John Donoghue has published numerous articles about the treatment of mental illness in a variety of medical journals. He lives in Liverpool.