No Way to Treat a First Lady
by Christopher Buckley
(Random House, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-395-50734-5
****
Elizabeth Tyler MacMann is in big trouble. The morning after an argument with her husband over his latest assignation, he was found dead. She has been accused of his murder.

But this is no ordinary case of domestic intrigue. Her late husband, Kenneth Kemble MacMann was a not just a womanizer of epic proportions. He was also a decorated Vietnam War veteran and President of the United States.

The First Lady allegedly assassinated the President by chucking a historic artifact - a Paul Revere spittoon - at him following an argument about his “entertaining” actress-singer-political fundraiser Babette Van Anka in the Lincoln bedroom. Beth McMann (“Lady Beth Mac” to her many detractors) needs a lawyer to take on what pundits are calling “The Trial of the Millennium.”

Boyce “Shameless” Baylor, the best and, at $1,000 an hour, America’s most expensive defense attorney has gotten the call. Boyce and Beth have a history that goes back to their days as Georgetown law students. They were engaged until she dumped him for another law student - Ken Mac Mann. Reunited for the first time in 25 years, he agrees to take her case.

Is that good or bad news for the First Lady? If convicted of the assassination of the President, Beth faces the death penalty. Did she really kill her husband or was she set up? Will Boyce save her or let her twist in the wind to settle an old score?

No Way to Treat A First Lady is Christopher Buckley’s latest socio-political satire. In addition to the Washington establishment, he takes on the legal profession with the same vigor he has skewered lobbyists, publicists and financial gurus in earlier works. His Thank You For Smoking is still my favorite and Nick Naylor makes an appearance in this novel.

Christopher Buckley is the son of conservative pundit William F. Buckley. He has spent years as a Washington insider, two of them as a speechwriter for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. However, the novel has appeal for readers of all political stripes. As in the best satire, the humor is over the top. No Way to Treat a First Lady also contains elements of a whodunit and a second-chance romance. While both are somewhat predictable, I found them satisfying for a light read. Just don’t expect John Grisham or Nora Roberts.

I’m not sure that the entire legal proceedings would stand up to professional scrutiny. However, as a lay reader, I found the possibilities intriguing. There is an interesting mix of several laugh-out-loud funny scenes, real Washingtonians and recognizable caricatures that kept me turning the pages.

I know that the rest of the country is spending the summer reading Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoir, Living History. But No Way to Treat a First Lady beckoned to me from my TBR pile. While in the case of the Clinton book, truth may be stranger than fiction, Buckley proves that fiction is often a heck of a lot funnier.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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