No living author writes better political satire than Christopher Buckley. If you haven't read his satirical novels Thank You For Smoking, Supreme Courtship, or really any of his other books, do yourself a favor and do so. In the meantime, politics has become so ridiculous that any attempt to write a satirical political novel today will be a waste of time, as politics has become so much stranger than fiction. So Buckley's most recent novel, published in late 2015, takes us back to the time of the Reformation.
The Relic Master follows Dismas, who purchases relics for his wealthy clientele. If you want the bones of saints, straw from Jesus' manger, or pieces of the true cross, he's your man. When it comes to the shroud in which Jesus was buried, that's a complicated request. Risking his career and reputation, he teams up with the painter Albrecht Durer to forge a shroud. When it's exposed as a fraud, his client sends him to steal the real shroud.
What follows is a madcap European Renaissance adventure, touching on the political and religious movements of the day. Is it a problem that people are buying and selling cardinal seats? What are these clerics going to do about this priest Luther? Is he right that the practice of indulgences is getting out of hand? The story is entertaining and historically enlightening. Buckley takes plenty of liberties, but he clearly did some research to place the story in context and gets the setting just right.
I didn't enjoy The Relic Master as much as I have enjoyed many of his novels set in modern times. But it is charming and sometimes hilarious. (I should point out that if you have strong feelings about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, you might find Buckley's take rather offensive if not blasphemous). If anyone can write a novel that will capture the absolute nuttiness of American politics today, it will be Buckley. In the meantime, enjoy this little trip to the 16th century.