REVIEW: The Judge Hunter by Christopher Buckley
The latest comic novel from Christopher Buckley, a hapless Englishman embarks on a dangerous mission to the New World in pursuit of two judges who helped murder a king.
London, 1664. Twenty years after the English revolution, the monarchy has been restored and Charles II sits on the throne. The men who conspired to kill his father are either dead or disappeared. Baltasar “Balty” St. Michel is twenty-four and has no skills and no employment. He gets by on handouts from his brother-in-law Samuel Pepys, an officer in the king’s navy.
Fed up with his needy relative, Pepys offers Balty a job in the New World. He is to track down two missing judges who were responsible for the execution of the last king, Charles I. When Balty’s ship arrives in Boston, he finds a strange country filled with fundamentalist Puritans, saintly Quakers, warring tribes of Indians, and rogues of every stripe. Helped by a man named Huncks, an agent of the Crown with a mysterious past, Balty travels colonial America in search of the missing judges. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Samuel Pepys prepares for a war with the Dutch that fears England has no chance of winning.
Christopher Buckley’s enchanting new novel spins adventure, comedy, political intrigue, and romance against a historical backdrop with real-life characters like Charles II, John Winthrop, and Peter Stuyvesant. Buckley’s wit is as sharp as ever as he takes readers to seventeenth-century London and New England. We visit the bawdy court of Charles II, Boston under the strict Puritan rule, and New Amsterdam back when Manhattan was a half-wild outpost on the edge of an unmapped continent. The Judge Hunter is a smart and swiftly plotted novel that transports readers to a new world.
Dear Mr. Buckley,
Not ever having read any of your previous books, I had no idea what to expect from “The Judge Hunter.” The bird on the cover caught my eye and the blurb sounded interesting. The there was the promise of an enchanting book with comedy, politics, adventure and romance. I couldn’t resist.
Quite frankly, the book started out a little slow and I was more enchanted with Sam Pepys than our hero Balty the proverbial thorn in Sam’s side. Throughout the book, I enjoyed Sam’s various chapters and even the artistic license taken with “writing” some entries for his diary. Balty took a while to grow on me.
Once he arrives in Newe England, Balty’s “fish out of water” disenchantment with the sour and dour Puritans makes me warm to him. I began to see him as a bit of Hugh Laurie playing “Bertie Wooster” – he’s a little silly, a little put out when things don’t go his way and at times becomes a thorn in the side of the man pledged to help him in his quest. Yes, Balty is a thorn wherever he goes.
Hiram Huncks is ostensibly there to assist Balty track down the two regicides who up until now have eluded Charles II in his attempts to execute the men who signed his father’s order of execution. Soon, though even somewhat dim Balty realizes that there’s something else in the works beyond hunting down the two men. But what?
The book gives a dismal look at life under the Puritans and then throws in details about life in these early Colonies, religion, religious clashes, Natives, politics, more politics, and the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Frankly, I knew little about a lot of this which made the book interesting but at the same time, slow as I fought to imbibe it all.
Humor is sprinkled throughout and of the wry, subtle type I adore. Yet, there is also terrible darkness and some violence (especially against a woman who was used more or less to propel the actions of the men) that didn’t sit neatly side by side with the jokes. It left me unsettled at times.
As the story continued, I was hooked. How would things turn out and what would happen to the characters? The ending just avoided going out of control. I was also left wondering what happened to a few key fictional characters. Considering what one had been through, I really needed closure that I didn’t get. All in all, I enjoyed “The Judge Hunter” for taking me back in time and whetting my appetite to learn more about early New England. The humor tickled my funny bone. But the unevenness and the way one character was left with an unfinished fate took away from my grade. B-