The Plan isn't so much a novel as the novelization of an (as yet) unproduced television miniseries. Written by Stephen J. Cannell, prolific creator of The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Wiseguy, 21 Jump Street, and The Commish, it has the catchy sort of premise that you can summarize and pitch to a network programming executive in one sentence flat: A TV writer/producer stumbles on to a Mafia scheme to buy the next presidential election and install their own man in the White House. So microwave some popcorn, but don't bother searching for your remote: Here's a gaudy, over-the-top, sweeps-week special motion-picture event without the car and cola ads.
Following years of commercial and critical success, Ryan Bolt, at 35, is a Hollywood rocket flaming out. Erratic and quick-tempered since the accidental death of his young son, he's shunned by the studios, dropped by his agent, divorced by his wife, even abandoned by his adoring secretary.
While teetering on the brink of mental collapse, Bolt is contacted by Mickey Alo, his prep-school roommate. Mickey asks a favor would Ryan consider making a short film about a dark-horse presidential candidate? Since nobody else is offering him work, Ryan accepts the offer. Quickly, though, he discovers that the candidate Haze Richards, Democratic governor of Rhode Island is a ''morally corrupt'' man whose candidacy is being funded with drug money. Worse, Ryan discovers that his old roommate happens to be don of the New Jersey Mob. When Ryan threatens to expose the conspiracy, Mickey schedules him for an immediate hit.
After that, well, it's just one close call after another. Many of the action sequences are overly familiar and often outlandish, but Cannell maintains such a breakneck pace that you don't have time to challenge any of his implausibilities. Even so, after a while, it does all get a little exhausting. And the characters from news anchors and policy wonks to FBI agents and Washington wives are plucked straight from Central Casting; the author even describes Ryan and his girlfriend (did I mention that he falls in love with Mickey's sister?) as looking ''way too pretty to be players in this drama.''
The Plan is some good, dopey fun offered without apology by a professional storyteller. C+