The Relic Master

Written by Christopher Buckley
Review by Wendy Zollo

Dismas is a prominent and successful broker of religious relics in the year 1517. He secures the bones, hair, and blood of martyrs and saints for his two biggest clients: Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, an ambitious acquirer of holy artifacts, which conflicts with his persistent protection of Martin Luther; and Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz, a determined go-getter who uses them as a means to sell indulgences to the masses while lining his coffers.

Dismas wants nothing more than to retire from his ever-changing profession, but his savings have been pilfered by his fraudulent banker. So this mostly honest man devises a scheme with his friend, the German artist Dürer, to forge the burial cloth of Christ to sell to the Archbishop. When it’s discovered to be bogus, Dismas and Dürer set out on a dangerous and hilarious journey to steal the original burial cloth known as the Shroud of Chambrey. The trek results in the master and the artist developing questionable roles of intriguing amusement and naïve foolishness, which enhances the story’s enjoyment.

The Relic Master is a great tale spun with originality in a slapstick, Monty Python-ish way. Buckley is a master of dialogue and setting and has created a read that incorporates the conflict of religion and madness of the enlightened. Its language is harsh, obscene, and tangible. The characters have largesse and complexity; they are as much of a joy to become acquainted with as The Relic Master is to read.