Some years ago, Christopher Buckley was writing an article on people’s infatuation with lists when he stumbled on something unexpected. His research yielded not just online “listicles” about embarrassing celebrity moments but a reference to a very different sort of list: a catalog of the 19,013 holy relics that belonged to Frederick of Saxony, who ruled from 1483 to 1525. It became the basis for his new novel, “The Relic Master,” out next month.
Mr. Buckley, 63, is best known for his satirical Washington novels such as “Thank You for Smoking” (1994) and “The White House Mess” (1986), as well as for “Losing Mum and Pup” (2009), his memoir about his parents, Patricia and William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative writer and impresario. For much of his career, he also wrote political commentary for publications such as National Review, the magazine his father founded.
But in recent years Mr. Buckley has focused more on straight fiction. “The trouble with trying political satire anymore is American politics have reached the point of being self-satirized,” he says with a smile.” Satire is “everywhere, especially on TV, and is being brilliantly done.” So he thought he ought to do something different.
Set in the early 16th century, during the papacy of Leo X, “The Relic Master” tells the story of a scheme to forge the Shroud of Turin. Mr. Buckley’s characters include historical figures such as the painter Albrecht Dürer, the Duke of Urbino and Frederick of Saxony.
In the story, Dürer counterfeits the famed relic—an idea that came to Mr. Buckley when he saw a self-portrait by Dürer that resembled, to his mind, a reverse negative of the Shroud of Turin. …
Note: The color photograph, above, is inline linked, meaning it is directly displayed from the Wall Street Journal website without copying it. It is by Peter Ross.