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The year is 1517. Dismas is a relic hunter: one who procures "authentic" religious relics for wealthy and influential clients. His two most important patrons are Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and soon-to-be Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz. While Frederick is drawn to the recent writing of Martin Luther, Albrecht pursues the financial and political benefits of religion and seeks to buy a cardinalship through the selling of indulgences. When Albrecht's ambitions increase his demands for grander and more marketable relics, Dismas and his artist friend Durer conspire to manufacture a shroud to sell to the unsuspecting noble. Unfortunately Durer's reckless pride exposes Albrecht's newly acquired shroud as a fake, so Albrecht puts Dismas and Durer in the custody of four loutish mercenaries and sends them all to steal Christ's burial cloth (the Shroud of Chambery), Europe's most celebrated relic.
On their journey to Savoy where the Shroud will be displayed, they battle a lustful count and are joined by a beautiful female apothecary. It is only when they reach their destination that they realize they are not alone in their intentions to acquire a relic of dubious legitimacy. Filled with fascinating details about art, religion, politics and science; Vatican intrigue; and Buckley's signature wit, The Relic Master is a delightfully rich and intelligent comic adventure.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-11-30
- Reviewer: Staff
For his latest comic novel, Buckley (Thank You for Smoking) turns his satiric eye from the political present to the dramatic Holy Roman Empire in 1517. Dismas, ex-mercenary, plies his trade as a buyer of religious artifacts for his two primary patrons: Frederick, Elector of Saxony, and the ambitious Archbishop of Mainz. Egged on by his good friend, painter Albrecht Durer, Dismas tries to sell the despised archbishop a fake shroud of Christ. But when the deception is uncovered, Dismas is forced to do penance by stealing the real shroud of Christ from the Duke of Savoy, who lives in Chambery. Accompanied by Durer and a small band of mercenaries, Dismas heads for Chambery, stopping along the way to rescue an apothecary's daughter who's accused of being a witch. Disguised as pilgrims, Dismas and his band are granted an audience with the duke, which brings them one step closer to the shroud. But complications in the form of Signore Caraffa, the Machiavellian henchman to Lorenzo de' Medici, stand in their way. This historical novel is part Monty Python and part Ocean's 11. The clever narrative is filled with laugh-out-loud one-liners but, amazingly, doesn't stint on the suspense as Dismas tries to play all the angles to get his hands on the shroud. Through the cheeky humor, the author gives readers a very real sense of the early 16th century, when science and superstition held equal sway, and a man was always a swordsbreadth away from a horrible death. (Dec.)