The political humorist’s second historical novel is a witty bromance about international intrigue and a hunt for two regicides in 17th-century New England.
Buckley (The Relic Master, 2015, etc.) continues a series that began with his previous book’s Baedeker through religious hypocrisy in 16th-century Europe and may have four more installments. Here, he moves to 17th-century New and Old England, jabbing at the Colonies’ Puritan cant, London court intrigue, and libidos in high places. When Samuel Pepys in 1664 seeks a job for his feckless brother-in-law, Balthasar “Balty” de St. Michel, the effort rapidly becomes embroiled in secret plans to spark a war with Holland. Balty receives a royal commission to hunt down two of the judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I and then fled to New England after Cromwell’s demise. But Balty’s aide-de-camp, a former militia commander named Hiram Huncks, uses the hunt as a cover for his efforts to rally Colonial forces when the British navy arrives to seize New Amsterdam. Balty is amusingly useless at nearly every turn, from seasickness on the Atlantic to tactless posturing among suspicious Colonial officials. Huncks, by contrast, is impressively resourceful and heroic—until Buckley cleverly flips roles and Balty must show his mettle. One subplot has Pepys cast into the Tower of London for peeping at private communiques. Another brings in a Quaker woman who must be rescued by the judge hunters from sadistic New Haven jurists. For those who nodded through classroom history, Buckley provides excellent summaries where needed during the tale and a two-page bibliography as well as asides on the five bastards Charles II had with Lady Castlemaine and their descendants (Diana Spencer, Sarah Ferguson).
An entertaining and nicely crafted picaresque thriller with crackling dialogue and a brace of Colonial cops as appealingly mismatched as any of Hollywood’s buddy efforts.