When I read the description for The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley, I immediately wanted to read it. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, but combining it with humor made it even more attractive. And the setting was the yummiest buttercream icing on the cake. I love reading a book set in a place I have visited. It adds so much to my experience, and I am able to get an even more detailed picture in my mind.
The Relic Master is set in medieval Germany and the Holy Roman Empire in the area along the Rhine, the Black Forest, and Basel, Switzerland. I’ve been fortune enough to travel there on a couple occasions and loved every minute of it.
The quirky ensemble cast in The Relic Master reminded me of the equally unique citizens of Koblenz who are immortalized in the aldstadt of that city on the banks of the Rhine and Mosel. On the Mittelrhein Museum, below the clock there is the face of Johann Lutter von Kobern, a highway robber from the 16th century. At his hanging, he rolled his eyes, stuck out his tongue, and told the people if they built him a memorial he would bring them luck. So they did. Every half hour, the clock chimes, he sticks out his tongue and rolls his eyes. There are also statues of memorable local residents such as The Candy Man, The Peppermint Lady (an elderly, alcoholic who reportedly sassed the baby Jesus in the Nativity at Holy Mary’s Church), The Drummer Boy (another local drunk who walked around town drumming the alarm), and The Market Wife and Policeman (she is complaining to him about a neighbor’s dog who has urinated on her basket). Lastly, there is “the schaengel” (little John) at the Rathaus (old city hall). This sculpture of a little boy gleefully spits water at onlookers. When French soldiers occupied the city on 2 occasions, under Louis XIV and Napoleon, they often fathered children with local women. Many of the soldiers were named John, so their sons became known as "little Johns”.
I think the characters of The Relic Master fit in well with this group. We have Dismas, (the former mercenary and now earnest relic master for the pompous Archbishop of Mainz and Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony), his friend Albrecht Dürer (the preening and cantankerous artist),a beautiful apothecary damsel in distress, and the bumbling hitmen of the Archbishop. After the Archbishop discovers Dismas and Dürer have sold him a fake shroud of Jesus, he forces them to steal the “real” shroud being displayed in Chambery in order to save their lives. To keep them from running away, he sends along his henchmen. The group then sets out to travel to Chambery where they find another group also planning to steal the shroud. Along the way, they encounter many colorful characters with hilarious results.
It’s historical fiction, road story, and humor all set to the backdrop of Church corruption and the start of the Reformation. The history is well-researched, and the attention to detail is impressive. The dialogue is witty and snappy. I found myself laughing out loud many times, which caused the lady on the treadmill next to me to stare and give me “the look”.
I absolutely loved this book, and highly recommend it. In fact, I would love for someone to adapt it to the screen. I would be first in line to see it.