Set in 16th century Prague, Wishnia’s new mystery transforms Jewish sexton, Ben-Akiva, and his mentor, the famous Rabbi Loew, into an effective detective team in The Fifth Servant. Just before the start of Passover, a young Christian girl is found murdered inside a Jewish shop, which triggers accusations of blood libel and revives the threat of retribution against the entire Jewish community. As the newly arrived shammes in Prague, Ben has three days to prove that someone else is responsible for the crime, other the the arrested shopkeeper, Federn. Though Ben gains the support of Rabbi Loew, he is hampered by the Inquisition and by ghetto restrictions, so he must depend upon his clever wit and mazl (luck).
I’ll admit that for the first 50 pages or so, I had to keep checking the glossary — I really don’t have a strong background in 16th century Jewish terminology! Still, most of the unfamiliar phrases were readily explainable within their context, so it really didn’t disrupt my enjoyment of the book. The characters are well-developed and the story is richly layered with both spiritual and historical insight, but it is the fast-paced tension that makes this a true page-turner.