cover image The Last Checkmate

The Last Checkmate

Gabriella Saab. Morrow, $16.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-314193-3

Saab’s capable debut features a revenge plot set amidst the horrors of the Holocaust. In April 1945, three months after Maria Florkowska escaped from Auschwitz, she returns to the camp armed with a gun in order to challenge Nazi officer Lagerführer Fritzsch, who’d tormented her there, to a chess match. Flashbacks provide the backstory of their relationship: At 14, Maria, a chess prodigy, joined the Polish resistance in Warsaw, delivering blank baptismal certificates to Jews so they could avoid being sent to the death camps. On one mission, she panicked when she was confronted by German officers, and, as a result, she and her family were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. There, she was separated from them, eventually learning they were executed. She was spared because Fritzsch had been sufficiently impressed by Maria’s chess playing to allow her to survive as his regular playing partner. But when Maria learns that Fritzsch may have personally executed her family, she plots her retribution. Knowing from the outset that Maria survived the camp reduces the tension in the flashback segments, though they serve to set up a powerful crescendo. Readers who love WWII fiction with strong female leads should check this out. Agent: Kaitlyn Johnson, Belcastro Agency. (Oct.)