04 July 2020

Political Fiction

Happy Fourth of July, everybody!  But today's column is, alas, not about Independence Day.

I'm also not talking about mystery writing, or about my own stories or books. (I usually stay as far away from politics as possible, when I write.) Today I'd like to feature--and recommend--the work of Christopher Buckley, an author whose novels I've enjoyed for a long time. He's the son of the late William F. Buckley, and writes mostly humorous political fiction.

I should phrase that another way. He writes mostly satire. Not all nis novels are political--but all are humorous. I was doing such heehawing while reading one of his books a few weeks ago, my wife asked me if I was reading something by Janet Evanovich. I said no, but this was just as hilarious, in a more subtle way. Author Tom Wolfe has called Buckley "one of the funniest writers in the English language," and that might be true.

Here are some of his novels, all of which I've either read or re-read over the past year or so, with a quick description of each:

Thank You for Smoking (1994)

Nick Naylor is a spokesman (smokesman?) for the American tobacco industry, and he's so good at being slick and unethical and deceitful, he's made enemies of everyone from the medical and scientific  communities to the FBI to an army of anti-tobacco terrorists. This novel was adapted into a 2005 movie starring Aaron Eckhart, Mario Bello, Sam Elliott, and half a dozen other names you would recognize. (I watched it again last night.)

Little Green Men (1999)

The story of John Banion, a famous Washington talk-show host who is abducted by aliens, becomes a hero to millions of UFO believers, and launches a crusade in favor of full-scale government investigations of extraterrestrial sightings and activity.

No Way to Treat a First Lady (2002)

When Elizabeth MacMann, the First Lady of the U.S. (widely known as Lady Bethmac), is tried for the murder of her husband, her only hope is a notorious defense attorney who also happens to be her former boyfriend from law school.

Florence of Arabia (2004)

Arabian official Florence Farfarletti stirs up Washington by hatching a plan for female emancipation in the Near East, using TV shows and a team that includes a CIA assassin, a flashy PR rep, and a brilliant gay bureaucrat.

Boomsday (2007)

A tale of a young blogger who causes a social uproar when she suggests that Baby Boomers be given government incentives to commit suicide by age 75. The main opponents are the Religious Right and of course the Boomers themselves, but a surprising number of Americans seems receptive to the idea.

Supreme Courtship (2008)

When U. S. President Donald Vanderdamp has a hard time getting his nominees appointed to the Supreme Court, he decides to back a judge already popular with the masses--because she's the star of a hit reality-TV show.

They Shoot Puppies, Don't They? (2012)

Washington lobbyist "Bird" McIntyre sets out to discredit the Chinese by trying to convince the American people that China is plotting to assassinate the Dali Lama, a risky plan that threatens to start another world war.

The Relic Master (2015)

Set in 1517, this is historical satire rather than political satire: the story of Dismas, a relic hunter who--with the assistance of artist Albrecht Durer, three thugs-for-hire, and a maiden Dismas has rescued from assailants--conspires to replicate and sell Jesus Christ's burial shroud. USA Today described it as "Indiana Jones gone medieval." I think this one's my favorite, of all Buckley's novels, and amazingly accurate, historically.

The Judge Hunter (2018)

The thrilling adventures of an inept Englishman named Baltasar (Balty) St. Michel, who's dispatched from London to the New World in 1664 to bring in (to justice) two judges who helped murder a king. Probably my second favorite.

One of Buckley's novels I'm looking forward to reading is Make Russia Great Again, to be released next month. I'm told it features Herb Nutterman, President Trump's White House chief of staff, who finds himself embroiled in both Russian intrigue and Trump's reelection campaign. (Talk about current events . . .)

Again--don't worry, you're not at the wrong blog. Even though these are not mysteries, they include crimes galore, from ancient to modern-day, and they're fun to read. Anybody else a fan of this kind of fiction? Of humorous fiction in general? Of Christopher Buckley? Who are some of your favorite writers of humor or satirical stories/novels?

Thanks for indulging me. Next time, in two weeks, it's back to more mysterious topics . . .


  1. Just when I needed some new reading material, this comes along. These sound great, John, so I'll have to check them out.

    Thanks and enjoy the fourth safely.

  2. Steve, I believe you'd like Buckey's books--if you try one, let me know what you think.

    Hope you have a good Fourth also. Thanks!

  3. I've read essays by Buckley and laughed my head off. I'll check out the books.
    Among my favorites re satire/humor:
    Carl Hiassen;
    George MacDonald Fraser's "Flashman" series
    Anything by Nancy Mitford (including her historical works) and E. F. Benson (the Lucia books are to die for)
    Anne Lamott
    Patrick F. McManus
    And, among columnists - I never miss the Rude Pundit or Charles Pierce on Esquire.

  4. I've only read a few of them, and should read more. I notice you left out a detail or two about Little Green Men...

  5. Eve, I'm glad you mentioned Hiaasen. I have all his books, even the YA novels. I also like, though each of them is way different from others, in the humor area, Dave Barry, Kinky Friedman, Janet Evanovich, Twain, Vonnegut, Mitford, Douglas Adams, many more.

    Rob, I left out a LOT about Little Green Men, and the others too. I finished LGM only a few weeks ago, and I'll always think of it anytime Roswell or E.T. or UFO sightings are mentioned.

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Interesting. I too do not write political stuff but some of my characters have political opinions.

  7. O'Neil, I not only don't write political stuff, I'm not wild about reading it. But I think you'd like this guy's novels. As far as political opinions of the characters, I think that's inevitable, at least to some degree, in any of our stories/novels.

    What Buckley seems to do so well is the funny side of politics--and heaven knows there's plenty of that to be found, in our crazy government.

    Hope you're having a good Fourth, old friend.

  8. Hi, John, I read Thank You For Smoking years ago and really enjoyed it, so finding your list here made me go look for another one to read. Thanks for the descriptions and bringing Buckley up!

  9. Hey Jan. I actually liked Thank You for Smoking more as a novel than a movie, but that often happens when you read it before you see it. Rob and I have talked a bit about Buckley, and he'd already mentioned to me that Little Green Men is his favorite. That really is one of the best. I sort of prefer the two historical-satires that he did (Relic Master and Judge Hunters), and I'm not sure why, but all of them are good. If you check out some more of Buckley's, let me know!

    Thanks for the thoughts!


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