When I picked up this book at the library, I somehow missed that it was a comedy. From the description on the cover, it sounds like an adventurous historical fiction. Fake shroud of Turin? Relic dealer? Albrecht Durer? Sounds good to me! A quest? Great!
Dismas, a relic dealer (a person who deals in Christian talismans- splinters of the true cross, various saint’s bones, the Virgin Mary’s breast milk, and the like) is about to retire. He has finally saved up enough money, carefully invested with a person of good repute. Then said person embezzles it all. That said person is executed helps not at all. Artist Durer proposes that Dismas sell something that one of his top customers has long desired: the burial shroud of Jesus. The fact that Dismas does not have a shroud does not deter Durer; he, artist that he is, will create one. And he does; it seems perfect. Dismas takes it to the Archbishop of Mainz and sells it, and receives enough money to set himself up. Except that a chance happening reveals that the shroud is a fraud; Durer could not stop himself from putting a hidden signature on the shroud.
Needless to say, the Archbishop is furious. Dismas and Durer are tortured, and then set upon a quest: to get the shroud everyone is sure is real, which is in Savoy under lock and key. To make sure they stick with the task, three violence-happy guards are sent with them. The resulting quest includes a couple of run-ins with a Count with evil on his mind, a runaway woman, more fraud, impersonation, and lots of blood and fighting.
I enjoyed the book even though it wasn’t what I thought it would be. There is a lot of blood and gore- it was a pretty blood thirsty age- but it’s tolerable, if sad at times. Durer comes off as a bit of an effete narcissist whose ego keeps getting them in trouble. I did like most of the characters, and the pace was good. Somehow, the author kept the tone light even with all the horribleness.
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