In his latest book The Relic Master, Christopher Buckley departs from his usual political satire and instead, writes a story set in 16th century Europe. Martin Luther is causing headaches for the Roman Catholic Church, posting his Ninety-Five Thesis which criticized the rampant corruption of the Church and its practice of selling indulgences for forgiveness. In connection with the selling of indulgences, the Church went to great lengths to acquire holy relics—finger bones, teeth, thorns, blood from the crucifixion, pieces from the cross—that they would display in cathedrals, attracting thousands of visitors every year, willing to pay to view these small remains tied to Saints and the Savior. The authenticity of the relic was not as important to the church as how many paying pilgrims would come to visit it.
Dismas is a former soldier and ex-monk who now earns his money acquiring relics at fairs and bazaars, selling them to Archbishops and rulers constantly trying to one-up each other with their vast collections. At the top of everyone’s list they’d like to acquire is the shroud Christ was purported to have been wrapped in after his crucifixion—known today as the Shroud of Turin.
While most relic hunters pay little attention to the authenticity of the relics they acquire, Dismas spent his whole career hunting down only the ones he believed to be genuine. But when he decides it's finaly time to retire, he learns that he's been swindled out of his life's savings by an unscrupulous banker and he decides the best way to replace his lost retirement, and to do it quickly, is to pull off his one and only con. He enlists the help of his friend, the German artist Albrecht Dürer, to create his own shroud and sell it to the highest bidder. Unfortunately Dismas’s plan goes horribly wrong and he finds himself strung up like a marionette in a dungeon and given one chance to earn back his freedom--which involves stealing the “real” shroud.
The rest of the story is a good example of why I enjoy Buckley's writing so much. It's smart, witty, and full of great characters. Even though this book is notably different from the rest of this books, I enjoyed it a lot. It's probably not the book I'd recommend to someone who has never read one of his books before, but it's not one you should skip if you've read his others.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆