This is Miss Wilchek's first trip into the boggy field of the Biblical historical novel in which so many authors have sunk in four-fathom-five of research, but she has redeemed a sickly and deficient genre with epic characters, just enough period flourishes and a tale to keep the TV unlit for several nights. Via a miraculously neutral style in narrative and dialogue which can effortlessly slip in and out of traditional Biblical phraseology, the author tells the story of Judith, Hebrew champion of a beleaguered village, and the Babylonian captain she murdered, Holofernes. Two slaves' reminiscences--of the Hebrew-Assyrian-Babylonian scribe, Ashur, and the handmaiden Tamar--trickle forward from separate distances (Ashur's picaresque career; Tamar's childhood with Judith) to meet like the Tigris and Euphrates at the terrible deed. Ashur's tragic but eventful life show them as a reluctant subject of the great king Nebuchadnezzar and the friend of the exuberant warrior, Holofernes; while Tamar's admiring recital of the beauties and proud acts of Judith, adored by her father, Holofernes' Hebrew counterpart, prepares the way for the thunderous confrontation. Nights of passion, and then Judith, having killed the man she loved, remains, for a life of mourning her father, her lover and infant son. With an ingenious manipulation of Biblical sources (the fiery furnace solution is perhaps a bit too cool), this is a brilliantly structured fancy of ancient hearsay and firm fact, and a pair of lovers fit to incinerate the most portentous pallet. Strong and sustained.