NOW THAT POLITICS IS SELF-SATIRIZING: Christopher Buckley has switched from Washington satire to historical fiction in his new novel, The Relic Master. I think it’s his best book yet, a page-turner about a 16th-century dealer in religious relics who joins the painter Albrecht Durer in the ultimate heist — an attempt to make off with the relic known today as the Shroud of Turin. (Full disclosure: I’m a friend and previous co-author.) It opens in 1517, one of those hinges in history. The Catholic elite’s passion for collecting saints’ bones (and using them to market the lucrative sale of indulgences) has become a bubble market that’s about to be burst by the Reformation. Martin Luther makes an appearance along with the the corrupt Pope Leo X and other relic buffs like Frederick the Wise. The novel combines the Buckley wit with a rich historical tableau: Flashman meets The Name of the Rose.
For holiday shoppers, I should note that it’s still possible to buy a relic, as in this assortment of saintly remains on eBay. But The Relic Master seems like a safer gift – and it’s definitely cheaper. Sure, a reliquary with St. Francis of Assisi’s hair would be a good conversation piece, but $680?