The 1970s-era thriller begins with a description of a man admiring a mountain range from an airplane.
"Far off in the west, the Sierra Nevadas made the horizon a jagged blue-gray pencil line," the author writes in the book's first paragraph. "It reminded Galardi of a sales graph, with Mount Whitney being a very good week."
Who on earth would link natural beauty to something you'd see on a screen in a conference room?
Spiro Agnew, that's who, the man who guaranteed that neither Joe Biden or Paul Ryan will ever become the first vice president to pen a Robert Ludlum-style bestseller. Agnew was there first with 1976's "The Canfield Decision." You remember, "the most controversial bestselling novel of the year."
OK, you probably don't remember the book. And if you're not of a certain age, you may be unfamiliar with Agnew himself. Here's a refresher: He was a disgraced ex-vice president described on the back of the $1.95 paperback edition of the book as "the most outspoken and controversial of the President's men." (The president was one Richard Milhous Nixon.)
I learned about the book while lost in a Wikipedia wormhole, endlessly clicking from one intriguing entry to another. Somehow I landed on the "American politicians convicted of crimes" page, which led me to the article on the late Agnew's life and a mention of "The Canfield Decision."
A few clicks later, a 36-year-old paperback was on its way to my door. It has that delicious musty smell of an old book, several positive and positive-ish blurbs ("Fascinating and exciting" – Merv Griffin; "Interesting" – Harper's), and evidence of a torn-out insert advertisement. No surprise: it was published back in the days when paperbacks came with ads for tobacco companies and didn't cost $16.95.
So how is "The Canfield Decision"? Let's say it's a page-turner because you'll turn the pages in search of something worth reading.
Just look at the first few pages, which is as far as I could get. Join me on this voyage through the mind of an ex-veep:
• The second paragraph in the book – yes, the second one – includes a lengthy description of the 727-E aircraft: "And now the engine modifications and increased fuel capacity of the E model gave it enough range for intercontinental missions. He was glad they hadn't gone supersonic."
This will really grab the one percent of readers who are engineers.
• Who's on the plane? An "affable, hard-working steward." A fortysomething Secret Service special agent with the muscle tone of a younger man. And "newsies" – reporters – most of whom have lost a commitment to objectivity. One, in fact, is a "fourteen-carat pain."
There's no sign, however, of the Agnew-ian "nattering nabobs of negativism."
• A news magazine called "Twiceweek" appears on the plane.
You might have seen it on the newsstands next to "Timely."
• There is, of course a pretty lady on the plane. She's a secretary named Kathy who's "sexy, but more heavenly sexy than earthy sexy."
Say no more. Oh wait. What?
• "I'm tired of falling for the same old baloney just because it's wrapped up to look like porterhouse," says a reporter. Later, he's described as despising his colleagues in TV and radio: "They learned nothing from day to day. They just flitted from flower to flower, intoning resonant banalities."
At least they're not discordant banalities. They're the worst kind.
• The vice president is a man named Porter Newton Canfield, known to his friends as "Newt."
A politician who goes by Newt? Oh come on. That's ridiculous!
Agnew really did have quite the imagination.
Randy Dotinga is a Monitor contributor.