Hope Never Dies (Obama Biden Mystery #1), by Andrew Shaffer
Without being particular partisans of either of the main characters in this uproariously funny and also deeply poignant mystery novel, namely former president Obama and former vice president Biden, there is much to enjoy and appreciate in this mystery and one hopes that the series will be a long and glorious one. A great deal of the enjoyment of this particular novel comes from the way that the author manages to have Biden play against his well-deserved reputation as a less cerebral version of Dan Quayle, while playing up the bromance between Obama and Biden as they work through months of separation and discover what a dynamic duo the two of them make even when it comes to uncovering a mystery behind a dead Amtrak conductor whose effects included, mysteriously, a map that pinpointed Biden’s home address. While Michelle and Jill largely feature off-stage in this particular novel, the effort to solve what is viewed as a suicide ends up bringing our heroes into grave peril and also showing some poignant aspects of the malaise of contemporary society, including frustrations with the political status quo and a real sense of sadness about the many abandoned and corrupt areas of contemporary American life.
The story itself is told in a breathless fashion, and we begin with a bored and out-of-shape Joe Biden being roused from his ennui by a sudden encounter with his old boss and a secret service agent who wants to escape geezer detail. What begins as a way for two people to overcome the boredom of their own civilian lives takes on a greater importance as more and more figures are involved and as the Wilmington police department shows a high degree of reluctance to humor the amateur sleuths, no matter how famous and important they are. We see distrust between the DEA and the local police, fret over the involvement of a violent biker gang, and see how Biden manages to deal with a clever private detective, gracefully face aging and his own loyalty to the people of Delaware and of the high-speed Amtrek route he took so loyally, and come to terms with his friendship with Obama and what it means. Without spoiling the story, it is easy to see that the novel ends with some very bittersweet but triumphant reflections that push Biden to come to terms with the lack of loyalty that American society is showing in general.
Essentially, this book works on multiple levels. Those people who are fond of Obama and Biden will find at least some nostalgia in seeing the two operate as fictional sleuths here with a great deal of conversation centering on politics. Even those who are not Democratic partisans will find the mystery itself a compelling one and the plot rather humorous, indeed seemingly tailor made for some kind of buddy comedy movie. For me, though, the most compelling layer of this book was the melancholy look at urban and rural decline, the poignancy of aging, and the way that Biden struggles to understand how he has been betrayed by those he views as friends, even as he finds Obama to be a loyal friend who struggles himself with the transition from power to a return to civilian life. The author not only has a worthwhile tale to tell in showing two political has-beens solving a complex mystery that demonstrates the decay of Delaware’s institutions but also wants the reader to come to grips with the malaise and decline of American institutional integrity with all that entails for our own security and enjoyment of the good life. There is not only a lot of laughter and a madcap plot here, but also some real depth of feeling and insight.