Noted novelist and screenwriter, William Goldman, died today at the age of 87. Goldman’s first original screenplay was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1967) which he followed with some of his well-known scripts that include The Princess Bride (1973) and Marathon Man (1974), which were originally novels. One of my favorite Goldman novels is No Way to Treat a Lady (1964), so I’ve chosen that work to share with you. If this novel doesn’t appeal to you, look into this very diverse author’s body of work. There is something out there perfectly suited for your tastes.
Publication Date: 1964
No Way to Treat a Lady was originally published under the name Harry Longbaugh and written over a two week period, No Way to Treat a Lady imagines that there were two Boston Stranglers who were aware and deeply jealous of each other and follows the investigation to track them down.
From the title, you’d think that the story is a snappy tale whose movie version would feature a wisecracking Katherine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell who are helpless without their brusque and often self-serving male counterparts, but what No Way to Treat a Lady gives the reader is actually a hard-boiled and violent mystery that is surprisingly funny.
While I grew up in quite a restrictive religious home, the one thing my mother never (for me – rarely for my brother) censored was literature. We would walk the four or five miles to the local branch of the library and I would immerse myself in the shelves often choosing a stack of biographies. It was during on one of these trips I found the literature of William Goldman. Pulp fiction at its finest. While likely between 13 or 14 at the time of the reading, I remember picking up No Way to Treat a Lady.
There are authors who very clearly write for the screen which can hinder translation to an effective novel. Lee Goldberg (known for a host of 1980s and 1990s television staples and for the Tony Shaloub vehicle, Monk) is one of those authors who writes for the screen brilliantly but leaves character development, story and motivations thin on the page. Better on the screen than on the page. In some respects, Goldman’s dialogue can be a bit poncy but never does his storytelling take a backseat on the page. In fact, Goldman was very unhappy with No Way to Treat a Lady‘s translation to the screen as it removed the subplot of the second strangler and focused solely on the main character with mommy issues. The mystery shifts perspectives from the stranger, to the cop, to the written word and more in laying out a background for a character who was violence with one aim. While some of the characters run quite thin, Goldman’s portrait of his main characters is faultless in its intricacy. By the end of the piece we know who did what and why they did it and, as with the best baddies, can feel for the character if not understand why he killed so many women.
Now, as with male authors who write male-driven fiction of the 1960s, the female characters are written quite thinly and, mostly, fit into a stereotype box. There’s the virgin and the whore. The woman who knew her risks and those who are so cruel that you wonder if perhaps they didn’t quite invite their fate. One must remember when reading No Way to Treat a Lady that this author also wrote The Princess Bride. As a side note, I’m not really a fan of most of the story but a lot of folks seem to like it. One of my 50-year-old husband’s high school bros is so into the movie he always watches when it’s on and tries to get me to give it another shot. Not going to happen. Just not my thing.
While No Way to Treat a Lady may not be empowering, it is simply good fiction. Currently out of print, there are used copies to be found but also give your local library a shot. If all you know of William Goldman is The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (which I love. Fun fact: Goldman’s pseudonym for No Way to Treat a Lady is the real name of the Sundance Kid), give No Way to Treat a Lady a shot and be sure to let me know what you think.
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You’ve made me want to read this story. I’ve read quite a few of Goldman’s works, but not this one. Off to the library.
I hope you enjoy it. I remember, at the time, finding it quite different and one of those things that made me wish I had the talent to write.