No Way to Treat a First Lady

No Way to Treat a First Lady

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by Christopher Buckley

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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Elizabeth Tyler MacMann, the ambitious First Lady of the United States (and known in the tabloids as “Lady Bethmac”), is on trial for the death of her philandering husband, and the only man who can save her is the boyfriend she jilted in law school—now the most shameless defense attorney in…  See more details below


A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Elizabeth Tyler MacMann, the ambitious First Lady of the United States (and known in the tabloids as “Lady Bethmac”), is on trial for the death of her philandering husband, and the only man who can save her is the boyfriend she jilted in law school—now the most shameless defense attorney in America. Published to rave reviews, No Way to Treat a First Lady is a hilariously warped love story for our time set in the funniest place in America: Washington, D.C.

Editorial Reviews

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.

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Chapter 1

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.

“Ten-thirty, then.”

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.

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Meet the Author

Christopher Buckley is the author of eight previous books, including Thank You For Smoking and Little Green Men. That would make this his, what, ninth? He is editor of Forbes FYI magazine and has contributed over 50 “Shouts and Murmurs” to The New Yorker. He is also credited with bringing about lasting peace in the Middle East and with alerting NASA to significant problems with its Space Shuttle Automatic Re-entry Guidance System (SSAEGS), thereby sparing several square blocks of Raleigh, North Carolina a very unpleasant surprise. He is a regular contributor to Martha Stewart’s Inside Trading magazine and informally advises the government of Argentina on debt re-scheduling. He is the 2002 recipient of the Washington Irving Medal for Literary Excellence, but has yet actually to receive it. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his saintly and long-suffering wife Lucy, two children and faithful Hound Jake.

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No Way to Treat a First Lady 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book! Hard to put down!
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Christopher Buckely takes his Dad's seriousness and turns it on its side when he writes his books. First Lady strikes my funny bone in ways that I didn't expect. I love the focus on D.C. and the political eccentricities. He plays them well. It's a quick and easy read and engaging at the same time. I couldn't put it down. I'll keep this to share with special friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Christopher Buckley successfully lampooned lobbyists with THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. Here the political satirist takes on presidential politics with a clever whodunit about a First Lady accused of killing her cheating husband. Like THANK YOU, none of the characters - politicians, lawyers, TV reporters - here is especially likeable or sympathetic - yet the scenarios in which they get embroiled are laughable indeed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a perfect satire on current affairs. There are pieces of the screw ups in the Clinton Administration as well as jabs at the characters, and the OJ trial as well. The ending of this book is perfect. An easy, entertaining, and brilliant effort by Chris Buckley.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm shaking my head as I laugh. Just finished this romp and think SNL should do a movie-length version of it: Will Ferrel as defense attorney Boyce 'Shamless' Baylor and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Lady Bethmac (just as suggested in the book). Wonderful satire. I can't wait for the author's next book, FLORENCE OF ARABIA.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want to have a good time at the expense of 1990's politicians, read this book. I laughed my way through it, and then ordered copies of all of the other satires Buckley has written. His dialogs are perfect, and he has a talent for tongue-in-cheek people and place names. It's a preposterous story...and yet...based on previous presidential behaviors...believable!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It stired me to laughter on several occasions! I listened to the Audio version, and it was read in such an animated and amusing way!
Guest More than 1 year ago
On one hand I can't wait to finish it , on the other hand I don't want to finish reading it! It's a pleasure you don't want to end. It's so funny, hilarious, may I say, and interesting and involves you in the story in a way it seems you're there watching the trial in court and on TV. Just great!