Master Dismas is a relic trader, an honest one, or so he thinks. Because of one small misstep, instigated by his close friend Albrecht (Nars) Durher, his life spins out of control. Such is the basic premise of The Relic Master without giving away much else of the plot.
There are two completely different sides to this inventive novel by Christopher Buckley. The first one is that this is a carefully plotted romp through the renaissance full of colorful and outlandish characters we shouldn't take that seriously. The other perspective you can take is that this is a well developed critique of the Catholic Church and its practices in placed in the proper context and time. If this book were just a good yarn nobody would go to the deeper side of its telling. However, there is an aroma of something more, something more elaborate and well crafted. Some other reviewers have hinted to this duality in the novel but have used it against it, not altogether unjustly. The novel sometimes reads like an Umberto Eco work written by Dan Brown and Christopher Moore.
Throughout the novel such an enormous amount of historical detail is given that you can't help but wonder how the author meant the book to be read. Why so much research for a novel which is at it's core a medieval adventure about abbots and tarts. You're left with wondering what it would have been like if the language had been more in line with the historical dignity. Not that high language is always appropriate for an historical adventure, but this felt almost like a long joke or a detailed attempt and historically accurate toilet humor.
Having said that I enjoyed the novel tremendously having learned more from this work than many learned textbooks about the same period.