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The Fifth Servant: A Novel Paperback – February 8, 2011
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“Whatever you are currently reading, I promise you it is not nearly as intelligent, witty, compelling or entertaining as The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia....Wishnia makes history come alive.” (David Liss, author of The Devil's Company and The Whiskey Rebels)
“Well-developed characters and detailed portrayals of life at the time help make this historical crime thriller a gripping page-turner.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Powerful . . . A densely philosophical yet surprisingly witty historical mystery.” (Booklist)
“The Fifth Servant offers a unique blend of mystery and Talmud set against an intriguing historical background.” (Linda Barnes, author of Lie Down with the Devil)
“The Fifth Servant proves that academia, wit, and compelling mystery may all be found in one book. And what a suspenseful, enthralling story this is—accessible and hugely entertaining, it is an astonishing novel.” (Ken Bruen, author of Sanctuary)
“The richness of the setting of The Fifth Servant is matched by the complexity and appeal of its characters. With apparent ease Kenneth Wishnia makes solid and real the sounds, sights, and smells of a vanished and legendary time.” (S.J. Rozan, Edgar Award-winning author of The Shanghai Moon)
“The Fifth Servant suceeds at its goal: to keep you turning pages, and, when you’re finished, wanting more.” (Forward)
“This fast-paced historical from Edgar nominee Wishnia (23 Shades of Black ) combines scholarly historical details that bring the 16th century alive with believable characters and a compelling mystery. Highly recommended for mystery lovers and fans of historical fiction. ” (Library Journal on THE FIFTH SERVANT)
“Think Sherlock Holmes with a dash of Woody Allen. Philip Roth and Stephen King. Mystery plus comedy. Detective novel meets Yiddish folk tale. Then add a little history and you have Kenneth Wishnia’s The Fifth Servant, a smart funny page turner that I hated to see end.” (The Jewish Journal)
A brilliantly imagined, beautifully written combination of scrupulously researched historical novel and riveting suspense thriller [with] a uniquely unforgettable protagonist. A richly atmospheric tale of religion, mystery, and intrigue.” (I Love a Mystery)
From the Back Cover
In 1592, Prague is a relatively safe refuge for Jews who live within the gated walls of its ghetto. But the peace is threatened when a young Christian girl is found with her throat slashed in a Jewish shop on the eve of Passover. Charged with blood libel, the shopkeeper and his family are arrested, and all that stands in the way of a rabid Christian mob is a clever Talmudic scholar, newly arrived from Poland, named Benyamin Ben-Akiva. Granted just three days to bring the true killer to justice—hampered by rabbinic law, with no allies or connections, and only his wits, knowledge, and faith to guide him—Benyamin sets off on a desperate search for answers. Following a twisting trail from the streets to the shul, from the forbidden back rooms of a ghetto brothel to the emperor Rudolf II's lavish palace, he will dare the impossible—and commit the unthinkable—to save the Jews of Prague . . . and himself.
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Top customer reviews
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The small town, which lies along the border with Germany, awaits the Inquisitor, sent by the Pope to ferret out witches and non-believers. The morning of Good Friday for Christians and the eve of Passover for Jews awakens its citizenry to the wails of a mother in search of her young child. After the Christian child is found in a shop, inside the Jewish Ghetto, the Christians, Protestants and Catholics, unite to avenge the murdered child.
Replete with Jewish history, the historic thriller is intelligent, informative, powerful, and witty. Richly descriptive images of the era along with Wishnia’s use of Hebrew and Yiddish layer the story’s authenticity. Excellent.
Also wonderful is Kassy, a non-Jewish (likely pagan or atheist) woman who lives in the woods and collects herbs for potions and medicines with which she heals and helps those brave enough to visit her. A witch, some in this papist time and country might say and, indeed, that is a description she is forced to confront before the end of the book. She does not have a lot to do with the direction of the story, but she adds an intelligence and gentleness that prevents the book from drowning in testosterone.
This book gets a little clever for its own good toward the last third, but Wishnia's writing makes smooth work of it.
The wit in this novel may be a bit too modern, as some other reviewers have noted, but frankly I don't care. I enjoyed it anyway. Often it was black humor, trying to laugh in the face of despair, and given Jewish history, I think that is completely warranted. I hope that Mr. Wishnia writes more about the history of the Jews in Europe.
Even though the book is set in Prague in the late 16th century during Passover and Easter, the plot and subplot really helped me get in the mood for appreciating our High Holidays and even having some fun with them -- also made for great discussion around the family meals tables for the past 10 days!
I thought that there was too much usage of Hebrew and obscure religious practices not familiar to me and probably most non-Jewish readers. In fact there is a glossary in the back (my first warning)and this combination plus a weak plot made this hard for me to follow. In trying to make it authentic, he instead made it distracting.
I understand trying to make a book more authentic and I usually appreciate that in a historical fiction novel but I just felt that this author did not pull it off well.
Gave up on the book halfway through. The book just was interesting to me; when I dread having to pick up a book (I usually plow through at least one every other week), I know its time to give it up.