When a president of the United States is found dead in bed after a night of vigorous infidelity, who is to blame? In the case of Ken MacMann, the list of suspects (and mistresses) is impressive. Christopher Buckley has created a wickedly funny whodunit about thoroughly hypothetical White House hijinks.
The satirist whose previous targets have included political pundits (Little Green Men), financial self-help gurus (God Is My Broker) and the tobacco lobby (Thank You for Smoking) returns with a humorous novel starring first lady Elizabeth "Lady Beth Mac" MacMann, whose philandering, Bill Clinton–like husband is found dead after a night in bed with his mistress. While the shenanigans of the president provide a great, funny back story, the main action concerns Beth, who is put on trial for "assassinating" her hubby by flinging a priceless Paul Revere spittoon at his head. Beth is a dynamo: a kind of ultra-Hillary. Buckley's real triumph, however, is in creating Boyce "Shameless" Baylor, Beth's $1,000-an-hour defender, a past master of "Dream Team"–style dirty tricks who, it turns out, also has a past with Beth. As the story of the trial twists and turns, like Bleak House on drugs, Baylor manipulates the media, Beth and the justice system in brilliant contortion after contortion. The literary equivalent of Must-See TV, only considerably more entertaining, Buckley's book is free-for-all satire.
Matheson brings all the skills one would expect of an experienced actor to Buckley's latest romp. In a story that's equal parts satire and courtroom drama, Buckley (Thank You for Smoking) slings barbs at lawyers, politicos and Washington's social elite. After President Ken MacMann returns from a lusty night in the Lincoln Bedroom with actress Babette Van Anka, his wife, Elizabeth, hurls insults and a priceless Paul Revere spittoon at him. When MacMann is found dead the next morning with the word "Revere" embossed on his forehead, the first lady becomes the prime suspect. Buckley lays his cards openly on the table: one lawyer is nicknamed "Shameless," while another's last name is Crudman. And Matheson captures them all, whether rendering Shameless Baylor's mock indignation at being refused a preposterous motion or evoking the arrogant commentary on a show called Hard Gavel. He also does excellent turns as the flighty, would-be Middle East peace activist Van Anka, a host of other witnesses and the no-nonsense judge who tries to keep the Trial of the Millennium in check. This may not be the year's most substantive audio, but with a plot that seems just crazy enough to be true and a crisp performance by Matheson, it never fails to entertain. Simultaneous release with the Random House hardcover (Forecasts, July 29). (Oct.)
This novel by Forbes FYI editor and supreme satirist Christopher Buckley will give your tummy muscles a more effective workout than those gadgets endlessly touted on TV infomercials. Every page will have you guffawing. The plot is pure Buckley: The First Lady clocks the President on the head with a Paul Revere silver spittoon when he tries to sneak back into their bed after a late-night tryst in the Lincoln Bedroom. She soon finds herself on trial for assassinating the nation's Commander-in-Chief. This masterpiece should earn Buckley a lifetime pass to said bedroom. (6 Jan 2003)
The first lady of Buckley's latest satire (after Little Green Men and Thank You for Smoking) is Elizabeth "Lady Beth Mac" MacMann, wife of President Kenneth Kemble MacMann. Kenneth, whose morals are as unreliable as a granny knot, meets an untimely death two and half years into his first term. Indicted for his murder, Elizabeth hires as her defender the one and only Boyce "Shameless" Baylor, to whom she had once been affianced. Elizabeth doesn't wear the widow's weeds long before she and her hotshot legal adviser get together for some unprotected fun in bed, with unintended but not unusual results. In strict story terms, the novel is a long tease-how many witnesses and how much testimony do we have to hear before finding out what really happened that fateful night in September? But it's worth the wait. The book is shot through with a particularly mordant vein of social satire and mocks the ludicrousness of modern life, something to which we've become numb. This should be on your list, near the top. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/02.]-A.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Wicked humorist Buckley shoots fish in a barrel and makes them dance. The targets in this sendup of Washington-trial lawyers, first families, Court TV, MSNBC, Dan Rather, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the American appetite for the awful-are the last decade's scandals, which, rather than being gluey and unbearable in the reheating, are even more fun this time around. The setup is the death of America's philanderer-in-chief Ken McMann after an exhausting round of hide the salami with songwriter, mother of mercy to the Middle East, and extremely generous campaign donor Babette Van Anka in the Lincoln bedroom. The game was complicated by the strange refusal of the executive salami to de-tumesce, and US president made it back to his own bedroom in the small hours only to run into the buzzsaw of a wide-awake Elizabeth Tyler "Beth" McMann, First Lady of the Land. There was the usual and, considering the situation, thoroughly justifiable screaming fight, but the couple eventually tucked in for the night. Alas, dawn revealed a dead president and, since the presidential forehead bore the imprint of Paul Revere's mark from the bottom of the sterling spittoon hurled by Mrs. M., the new First Widow is charged with murder. To her rescue comes Boyce "Shameless" Baylor, America's top trial lawyer, the man who successfully defended athletic wife murderer J. J. Bronco. It's not the first meeting for Beth and Boyce. Before she threw him over for handsome, hard-charging war hero Ken McMann in law school, Beth and Boyce had been an item. And, although it was she who picked up the phone and called for help, she can't help wondering whether, being still a little sore at her, he might throw the match. ButBaylor's competitive instincts are as unquenchable as the late president's lust, and Beth is still a dish. The battle is joined. It's a lulu. Unspeakably and endlessly funny. Unless you're a former president.
From the Publisher
"Unspeakably and endlessly funny. Unless you're a former president…Wicked humorist Buckley shoots fish in a barrel and makes them dance."
"The lurid sexual excesses of the late 90's provide plenty of comic fodder for Buckley's latest satire, which doubles as a legal thriller…The political humor is first-rate as usual, as Buckley has plenty of fun with the slimy, silly mess that is Beltway politics. This is one of his better efforts, which should keep Buckley on the "A' list of American satirists."
-Publishers Weekly (lead review)
“Buckley has surpassed himself....The result isn’t humorous; it’s hilarious.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“An exceedingly funny account of a White House scandal that doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance—nudge nudge, wink wink—
to one that took place there only five short years ago.”
—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“This clever, gleeful satire . . . sets a high comic standard.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Christopher Buckley must have had a great time creating this satire that is part legal thriller, part love story and entirely over-the-top funny. But those who choose to pick it up can look forward to smart writing, memorable lines and more than a few belly laughs. [No Way to Treat a First Lady] doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure; it can be enjoyed and shared because it is simply smart and light and very funny.”
—The Denver Post
Read an Excerpt
His secretary announced simply, “It’s her.”
There was no ambiguity as to who “her” might be, not after the force twelve media storm of the previous weeks. The country was convulsed. Seven-eighths of the nation’s front pages and the evening news was devoted to it. If war had broken out with Russia and China, it might have made page two.
“Shameless” Baylor had spent much of the previous seventeen days wondering if Beth MacMann would have the balls to call him.
He was, at age not quite fifty, the top trial attorney in the country. He had been the first lawyer to charge $1,000 per hour, which—for too long—had been considered the unbreakable sound barrier of legal billing.
There were half a dozen second-best trial attorneys each of whom, naturally, considered him- or herself the top trial attorney in the country. But none of them had been simultaneously on the covers of all three weekly newsmagazines, none had been portrayed in movies by a famous British actor pretending to be American. None owned a professional baseball team. And, to be sure, none had been married and divorced four times. The previous record had stood at three. That he had any assets left after such serial marital wreckage was perhaps the greatest testament to his courtroom skills.
He hadn’t been baptized “Shameless.” In fact, up to the moment he set out to become the best trial attorney in the country he had been the soul of decency, what used to go by the name of “Christian gentleman,” a veritable poster boy for all that is good and sunny in human nature. His real name was Boyce, and at his baptism, his godparents firmly rejected Satan on his behalf. The rejection lasted until an event that occurred to him just before he graduated from law school.
The nickname had been given to him by a federal judge early in Boyce’s controversial career, after he had persuaded a jury that his client, the Cap’n Bob Fast Fish Restaurant chain, was unaware that its popular Neptune Burgers were made from black market Japanese whale meat. Since that stunning victory, Boyce had successfully defended traitors, terrorists, inside traders, politicians, mobsters, blackmailers, polluters, toxic-waste dumpers, cheats, insurance frauds, drug dealers, horse dopers, televangelists, hucksters, society wife batterers, cybermonopolists, and even fellow lawyers. An eminent legal scholar who wore bow ties commented on public television that if Shameless Baylor had defended Adolf Eichmann after he had been kidnapped and brought to Israel and tried for crimes against humanity, Eichmann would have been not only acquitted, but awarded damages. It was not said admiringly. But if Boyce’s fame had long since reached the point where shoeshine men in airports asked for his autograph, the public was largely unaware of the actual motivation for his remarkable career.
And now—a quarter century after his career began—his phone rang.
He reached for the button, then paused. He thought of telling the secretary to tell her to call back. Sometimes he put new clients through a ten- or fifteen-minute wait before picking up. Softened them up. Made them all the more eager.
Should he, to her? No. He had waited twenty-five years. He was too impatient to begin this beguine.
He felt the kettledrum in his chest. Good Lord. Was his pulse actually quickening? He, who never broke a sweat, even while arguing before the Supreme Court?
He picked up.
“Hello, Beth. What’ve you been up to?” This was nonchalance carried to operatic heights.
“I need to see you, Boyce.”
Her voice was all business. Cool as a martini, no more emotion than a flight attendant telling the passengers to put their seats in the upright position. He’d have preferred a little more raw emotion, frankly, even a stifled gasp or sob. Some clients, even burly men who could break your jaw with one lazy swipe of their paws, broke down the first time they spoke to him. Boyce kept a box of tissues in his office, like a shrink. One new client, the head of a plumbers union who had been taped by the FBI on the phone ordering the car bombing of a rival, had blubbered like an eight-year-old. He later blamed it on medication.
But even now, placing a call that must have humiliated her, Beth was in her own upright position, not a trace of begging or desperation in her voice. Boyce stiffened. His pulse returned to normal. Okay, babe, you want to play it cool? I’ll see your thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit and lower you five.
“I could see you tomorrow at ten-thirty,” he said. “For half an hour.”
It had been a long time since anyone had said something like that to Beth MacMann.
The two of them began the mental countdown to see who would blink first.
. . . seven . . . eight . . . nine . . .
“Fine,” she said.
“Will you be taking the shuttle?” He’d be damned if he’d send his own jet to pick her up.
“No, Boyce. I’ll be driving. I don’t relish the thought of being stared at for an hour on the shuttle.”
As a former First Lady, she retained Secret Service protection, another of the ironies in which she and the nation found themselves: prosecuted by the government, protected by the government. A Times columnist had mischievously posed the question: If in the end Beth MacMann was executed, would there be a shoot-out between the Secret Service and the lethal injectionist? So many delicious questions were being posed these days.
Boyce leaned back in his leather throne and imagined the spectacle in all its many-pixeled splendor: hundreds of TV cameras and reporters outside his Manhattan office, clamoring, aiming their microphones like fetish sticks as the Secret Service phalanxed her through to the door. And there he would be standing, gorgeously, Englishly tailored, to greet her. His face would be on every television set in the world tomorrow. Peasants in Uzbekistan, ozone researchers in Antarctica, Amish farmers in Pennsylvania would recognize him.
He would issue a brief, dignified, noncommittal statement to the effect that this was only a preliminary meeting. He would smile, thank the media for its interest—Boyce was the Siegfried and Roy of media handlers—and usher her in. How satisfying it would be, after all these years. They were already calling it “the Trial of the Millennium,” and there he would be, at the red hot center of it. And maybe—just maybe—to make his revenge perfect, he would deliberately lose this one. But so subtly that even the Harvard Law bow tie brigade would hem and haw and say that no one, really, could have won this one, not even Shameless Baylor.
From the Hardcover edition.