|The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia
Synopsis: 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.
The historical fiction/ murder mystery The Fifth Servant is an intriguing and educational look into 16th century Prague where everyone from the Pope to the Rabbi's to the christian Jewish servants are ruled not only by religious laws but superstitions. A little girl is murdered and her body found in the shop of a Jewish Businessman, Jacob Federn and not only are he and his family accused of blood libel, but the whole Jewish community. What exactly is a blood libel?
The blood libel is a false accusation that Jews sacrifice Christian children either to use the blood for various "medicinal" purposes or to prepare Passover Matzoth (unleavened bread) or for vengeance and mock crucifixions.
Benyamin, a shammes (synogogue caretaker) and student of Rabbi Loew is given three days to prove that Jacob didn't commit the crime. The story is a mixture of theological and ideological discussions and crime solving and the two intertwine tightly to tell an intriguing story. When I first started the book, I was thrown off by all the Yiddish, Hebrew, Czech and German words thrown in, but soon found they were either self explanatory or translated by the characters. The story is told in the first person perspective of Benyamin, the third person perspective of Anya, daughter of a christian butcher and servant to a Jewish family during passover, and a catholic bishop in charge of the inquisition to eliminate witches.
I didn't start the book until Friday and seriously didn't think I was going to finish it in time for the tour. It was slow reading at first until I got into the groove of the story. There is a glossary in the back of the book to help explain some of the terminology. The Fifth Witness isn't a story to be rushed as there is much to learn about the conflict between the Christian and Jewish community, their cultures and religious laws. However, I finished reading it this morning. I truly enjoyed the historical perspective and got carried away along with the characters as they worked to solve the mystery of the child's murder.
Kenneth Wishnia did an excellent job of pulling it all together and I highly recommend it. I look forward to reading more of his works in the future. Kenneth Wishnia has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. His crime fiction has been nominated for the Edgar and Anthony awards. He teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Suffolk Community College on Long Island, where he lives with his wife and children. You can find out more about him at his website
Thank you to Trish and TLC Book Tours for asking me to be part of the tour, Harper Collins for providing me with a courtesy copy of the book, and Kenneth Wishnia for writing such an intriguing story. Check out the rest of the tour:
Tuesday, February 8th: Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, February 9th: me
Thursday, February 10th: Coffee and a Book Chick
Monday, February 14th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Thursday, February 17th: Man of La Book
Friday, February 18th: Chaotic Compendiums
Wednesday, February 23rd: The Lost Entwife
Thursday, February 23rd: In the Next Room
Thursday, February 24th: Book Journey
Monday, February 28th: Wordsmithonia
Wednesday, March 2nd: Rundpinne
*Note: All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own and no compensation was received in exchange for this review.