The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia

16th-century Prague, Wishnia’s outstanding debut convincingly transforms a Jewish sexton and his rabbinic mentor into a plausible pair of sleuths. Just before the start of Passover, the discovery of the bloody corpse of Gerta Janek, a blond girl, maybe seven years old, inside the store of Jacob Federn, a Jewish businessman, triggers the inevitable revival of the blood libel and threat of mass retribution against the entire Jewish community. Benyamin Ben-Akiva, the newly arrived shammes, has three days to prove that someone other than Federn is guilty of Gerta’s brutal murder. He faces opposition from his own people, but manages to win the respect and support of the legendary Rabbi Loew, who helps him gain access to the body so that a rudimentary examination can be done, though many Gentiles are offended by the very notion.


I love reading about different cultures and that is what initially drew me to this book.  That, a little historical fiction and I do love a good mystery.

Highly detailed and full of 16th century imagery – this part of the book I really enjoyed as author Kenneth Wishnia truly has a way with words.  And speaking of words… on the flip of that this is a book that would be a delight for those who love learning languages as the Hebrew, German, and Yiddish words are used throughout.  For me – it started to feel a bit like work to stop and roll the words through my mind, however I can see me going back and reading this book again when I have more time to really spend time in the language of it.  (*There is a glossary for the words in the back of the book).
The Fifth Servant opens up to many colorful characters and much of the book is seen through Benyamin Ben Akiva eyes and as such is a witness to the hideous murder.  This book reminds me strongly of another that I have read but for the life of me I can not seem to put my finger on that tile.

While maybe not so historically correct – I did like the way women were portrayed in the book as strong and capable.  That was refreshing for someone who like me enjoys reading about strong women.

There were parts that I did not enjoy – at times it felt like the religious/political aspect of the book became more important than the mystery itself and the plot felt lost for a time until suddenly the ending pulled me back into the story.

Final thoughts…  there was more to this book then I originally anticipated but still I found it to be a good read.  Due to my own procrastination I started this book later than I should have and feel I could have spent more time in it, working through some of the details.  This is one I will probably pick up again soon and spend a bit more time with it.

You can see Kenneth Wishnia’s website here

Amazon Rating

I received this book for review as part of the TLC Book Tour

15 thoughts on “The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia

    1. I had had a few harder reads in a row now and I think that affected me a bit here on this one…my head was already full before I even started this. I think that’s why I need to swing through it one more time. 🙂

  1. Hi. Thanks for taking the time to read and discuss my book.

    I would just like to correct a common misperception that keeps turning up in readers’ comments, namely, that the strong female characters are somehow anachronistic.

    My mother is one of the founding members of the Women’s Studies Program at SUNY Stony Brook, and she says, “Women have always worked.” Especially in traditional European Jewish culture, where it was standard procedure for the women to take charge of the profit-making day-to-day business matters so that the men could sit around and study the Torah all day.

    I hope that helps clear things up a bit.

  2. I just posted my review of it and I have to agree with you. I thought the strongest part of this one was the historical details. The mystery itself was a little weak for me.

    I hope you have a great week.

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