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Marcía from New Jersey
Thoughtful, well researched & exciting storyline
Wishnia gives a detailed experience of what life was like during the 16th century Prague, including superstitions and rituals of the Jewish & Christian traditions and a murder mystery with lots of twists and turns that will surprise you til the end.
Joanne V. (Towanda, PA)
I really tried to like this book!
Wishnia pulls no punches when identifying offending parties & situations leading to the murder. His rich characterizations give readers a complete and plausible (but unexpected) explanation of how and why the crime occurred.
This is a dense read-not bubbly beach book-but well worth it.
I just couldn't get into this book and I struggled with it from the beginning. I am sorry to say, I couldn't finish it. Good research, interesting languages, but I felt I was in school reading a text book and since I am student no more, I just dropped it. Sorry!
Bill L. (Hilliard, OH)
The Fifth Servant
I really enjoyed The Fifth Servant. From the start, it was was well thought out with multiple twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. So suspenseful, that I couldn't put the book down once I started reading. Wishina has a wonderful way with words that makes you believe you are actually in the story itself. Don't be put off by the language barrier, it's part of the journey that will make this a memorable story you will never forget.
Wendy R. (Riverside, CA)
The Fifth Servant
The Fifth Servant takes place over three days, but is not a fast paced book for all the author tries to accomplish, both in conveying the historical aspects of the time period as well as the more philosophical discussions that take place between the characters. There are also the personal stories. Benyamin's attempts to reconcile with his wife and Anya and her own internal struggles, including whether or not to pursue forbidden love. There is building tension, especially as Benyamin's deadline to bring forward the real killer approaches and the angry mob outside the gates grows more and more violent. The mystery itself, the search for what happened to the murdered girl, seemed almost secondary to the other events taking place to the book. Still, it definitely is what moved the story forward.
Deborah M. (Chambersburug, PA)
"Look at all my research!"
The Fifth Servant was not quite I expected, but I did enjoy it. I would have preferred there to have been more of a balance between the mystery itself and the other aspects of the novel; however, there was so much going on that I can see how challenging that might be. The inquisition is an interesting and sad part of our world's history, and I was inspired to do a little research into the time period the novel is set in after finishing it--always a good sign.
I found this book unenjoyable and very difficult to finish, mainly because the author seems to parade his extensive research at the expense of a good story. It wasn't so much the use of expressions in multiple languages, but more the stream of minute details about Jewish culture, history, and religion that bogged me down. I'm an academic myself (and my field is the 16th century, which is why I selected this book), but when I read historical fiction, my first criteria is that a book has to give me pleasure. I love to learn from well-researched fiction, but I don't want to be beaten into boredom by an author's research. This book might have more appeal to readers with a particular interest in Jewish history and Talmudic law; but I found the mystery thin and the characters rather weak.
Kelly P. (Monterey, TN)
Good book, bad mystery
The setting of the story, the period in history, the characterization, and the emotional impact resulting from the facts of Jewish life in that era all contributed to a fascinating novel. Unfortunately however, the mystery at the heart of the book detracted from an otherwise interesting read. It felt like this book started out as pure historical fiction and a late decision was made to shoehorn in a mystery. The author did a masterful job of recreating life in the Prague ghetto and the religious persecution of the era. I wish he would have stayed with that theme and left out the murder-mystery.
Alex Z. (Savannah, GA)
Novel or lecture?
The author’s technique of using modern conversational English for his 16th century dialog works pretty well. The historical detail is interesting and well-researched. But unless the reader has a particular interest in minute details of Jewish culture and history, it gets old after the first hundred pages. The plot, such as it is, takes second place to the detailed information about Jewish religion and custom. The main character is a sort of Talmudic superhero who has apparently memorized every scrap of Hebrew writing from the beginning of time to the mid 1500's. He’s the Bruce Lee of religious debate. He knows more, and quotes more scripture than all the rabbis put together. Every conversation seems to be a kind of poetry slam of battling quotations of ancient Jewish scholars. Certainly there’s a lot of interesting and clever stuff here, and I enjoyed it because I do have an interest in the subject matter. But the plot is really just a vehicle (and a slow one) for all the cultural and historical detail. It seems to me that the tail is wagging the dog here.
Lea Ann M. (Seattle, WA)
The Fifth Servant
As I read the description of this book on BookBrowse, I was intrigued and once chosen to receive an advance copy eager to read it.
I am sorry to say that I was disappointed in this book. Rather than being the mystery it was advertised to be, it read more like a text book.
First was the liberal use of Yiddish vocabulary. Yes, there is a 6 page glossary at the end of the book, but stopping to flip pages back and forth upsets the reading rhythm.
Second, was the long time between the murder and it's solving. What comes between is more of a cultural, history lesson re the animosity between the Ghetto Jews and the community Christians.
Thus, this book might better have been described as historical fiction than mystery. The reader would then have more realistic expectations of what he/she would be picking up to read.