Christopher Buckley has a history of writing smart comic novels, usually about political subjects. But his last couple novels have fallen a bit flat. However, I still picked up The Relic Master when I saw it on sale at a BOGO sale at Audible, especially since it was out of Buckley’s normal subject area.
The Relic Master is set 500 years ago as Martin Luther was writing his 95 Thesis and the reformation was beginning to dawn. This is historical fiction that is pretty historically accurate for the known characters. There were relic fairs and prominent people did buy and sell relics, which created markets for forgers.
The main character, Dismas has attempted to be an honest relic hunter, although he is real enough to know that many of the relics being sold are fakes and real enough to know that many of the miraculous proofs are frauds and cynical enough to want out of the business. After being robbed of his savings, he decides to attempt a grand fraud to give him enough to retire to the country and become a happy, stable farmer and family man.
The fraud is caught because of the pride of the artist (Durer). Dismas and Durer’s are then forced into a quest to steal the Shroud of Chambery.
Once the book is actually set up, it goes fairly well (although it starts slow). The main story moves along fairly well, but the ending is a bit too abrupt. There are a few areas where I was pretty sure historical inaccuracies were added (one of these involves a syringe, but evidently there were early plunger syringes back to the 1st century).
I like the characters, which is important to me in Buckley’s writing. And I liked the humor, although this wasn’t as comic a novel as many. Buckley is taking fairly easy pot shots for much of his humor. So the bite of the sarcasm is also not as sharp, although that may be at least somewhat because the subjects are 500 years old.
Historical fiction can be hard. It is easy to make the characters, especially the good ones, into modern characters that happen to be in a historical period. This was somewhat true with The Relic Master, but matters of faith were mostly taken pretty seriously.
I still have not enjoyed Buckley’s recent novels nearly as much as some of his early ones like Supreme Courtship and God is My Broker. But Relic Master was far better than They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?.