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“The Relic Master” by Christopher Buckley

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Christopher Buckley’s humorous historical fiction novel The Relic Master is set in turbulent political times: shortly after Martin Luther has pinned his 95 Theses to the cathedral door. The main character, Dismas, is a “relic master” for Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz. He procures holy relics for the cardinal’s collection, and unlike many in his profession, accepts only those he believes have a reasonable chance of being genuine. The one time he breaches this sense of professional integrity, it has catastrophic consequences, and Dismas finds himself being sent on a mission to steal the burial shroud of Christ (which will later become known as the Shroud of Turin) from its current owner, the Duke of Savoy.

Much of the book is light-hearted, as Dismas banters with his companions and they have to come up with one half-baked scheme after another to keep their plan on track. But serious themes are treated too. Genuine camaraderie develops between Dismas and the three German soldiers who are meant to be his guards, and he falls in love with a woman they meet along the way. He wrestles with the question of whether the shroud is the real thing or not, and he and Dürer debate Luther’s provocative writings.

Buckley is known for his satire, and his talents in that regard are on full display here. The constant parade of hypocritical politicians makes the story eminently relatable for anyone living in the modern age. On top of that, the heist-story nature of the tale makes it a fun page-turner.

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