It’s a year or two since Barack Obama and Joe Biden left the White House, and Joe is pissed off that the man he thought was his BFF hasn’t so much as texted him, preferring instead to go gadding around the globe with celebrities.
It takes a suspicious death to bring them back together again. An Amtrak conductor whom Joe has known for many years is found dead on the line with a baggy of heroin and a map to Joe’s house in his pockets. Barack brings Joe the news before the news media can get hold of it, and the two of them set out to solve what they’re sure is a murder . . .
The investigation’s recounted in the first person by Joe, complete with frequent grumbles about his knees and his prostate and the fact that he’s falling apart while Barack just seems to get fitter and trimmer, albeit grayer, with the passing years. He’s an appealing narrator: I chuckled on occasion, sometimes in sympathy, sometimes less so, and had a grin on my face much of the time I was reading. Shaffer’s portrayal of Biden is affectionate but at the same time not uncritical: while we can recognize the man’s qualities, we can recognize too his limitations. Obama’s characterization isn’t as fully rounded, the book’s one real weakness of any note, but I guess we all have our own mental construct of the man. There are also some pleasing gibes related to the differences between the Democrats’ ideals and the practices of the DNC and the Democratic establishment.
Make no mistake, leaving aside all the parodic elements, Hope Never Dies is a pretty decent mystery novel: well worth reading on that basis alone. Shaffer’s prose has a nice, highly readable clarity; on the occasions where he does let loose with a Chandleresque simile or two, as is inevitable in a novel of this type, he doesn’t get carried away by his own prolixity, as so many Chandler imitators do.
Whether you’re in search of a comic novel or a good mystery, I’d recommend Hope Never Dies.
One odd and slightly sour note: Paterson Free Public Library, whence my own library borrowed the copy I read, has placed Hope Never Dies not on the Mystery shelves or even just on the main fiction shelves but, presumably because the book has a picture of Barack Obama on the front, in the African American Collection.