May 1, 2018

BUCKLEY AT HIS BEST: The Judge Hunter is out today, the latest comic novel from Christopher Buckley (and my new favorite).  On the theory that Washington has become impossible to parody, Buckley switched from political satire (Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men) to historical fiction, starting in 2015 with The Relic Master, a 16th-century caper to steal the Shroud of Turin. Now he’s on to the 17th century in the The Judge Hunter, in which the London diarist Samuel Pepys gets rid of his feckless brother-in-law, Balty, by sending him to New England to track down two judges who had signed the death warrant of King Charles 1.

It’s a lovely blend of P.G. Wodehouse and George MacDonald Fraser — Bertie Wooster meets Flashman — as the dandified Balty travels from Boston through the wilderness to New Amsterdam, fending off Puritan governors, Indians and Peter Stuyvesant. It gave me a new appreciation for the roots of the grim zealotry animating environmentalists. If you think today’s New Englanders are tough on non-recyclers, consider what their Puritan ancestors were doing to Quakers. When Balty attends a Puritan service in New Haven, he’s shocked to see a young woman walking serenely up the center aisle without a stitch of clothing on her. He assumes she’s insane, but his traveling companion, a savvy military veteran named Huncks, explains that this is a common form of protest for Quaker dissidents.

Balty considered. “Well, I’d call it lunatical. At the very least, fruity.”

“Religions are fruity.”

“Jesus didn’t go parading about naked.”

“He went looking for trouble, didn’t he? Same with Quakers. They embrace persecution. Fulfills them.”

Balty weighed this. “Damn strange bit of business, however you slice it. The sight would have broken your heart. A constable who bellowed at me for running said she’s to be tried tomorrow. Probably because they don’t have trials on the Sabbath. What will they do to her?”

“The King’s missive forbids them to persecute Quakers. No more hangings, floggings, cutting off ears, branding. What shall they do for entertainment?”

Spoiler alert: the Puritans aren’t about to let the King’s missive interfere with their entertainment, but Balty comes to her rescue. Read the whole thing.



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