Author: Andrew Shaffer
Series: Obama Biden Mysteries (#1)
Publication date: July 10, 2018
Genre: mystery, humor
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Hilarious, campy, and some welcome relief from the stressful state of American politics today, Hope Never Dies is one of those quick and wacky reads that you’re not always certain you’re in love with, but also just can’t put down. Plus, an Obama-Biden bromance, from good ol’ Uncle Joe’s point of view? How can that not be freaking amazing?
The publisher’s plot description works great, so here’s that for your reference:
It’s been several months since the 2016 presidential election, and “Uncle Joe” Biden is puttering around his house, grouting the tile in his master bathroom, feeling lost and adrift in an America that doesn’t make sense anymore.
But when his favorite Amtrak conductor dies in a suspicious accident, Joe feels a familiar desire to serve – and he leap into the role of amateur sleuth, with a little help from his old friend President Barack Obama (code name: Renegade). Together they’ll plumb the darkest depths of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.
It’s hard to write a lengthy review for a book like this, because…well...it’s a satire. It isn’t meant to be a top-quality mystery or an in-depth character study or a nuanced critique of America’s problems–it’s meant to be fun, to take a pair of iconic political figures (whose friendship has spawned many a great meme) and put them in a new and crazy environment so that we can pretend their story never ended and they’re still enjoying some fresh victories. And in that regard, it more than succeeded; seeing Biden driving Obama’s new car in a high-speed chase with a biker is a scene I never knew I needed in my life, and I like the juxtaposition the two of them as a crime-fighting duo: passionate, sometimes-bumbling Joe, alongside the intelligent, cool, calculated Barack.
Of course, some (okay, a lot of) liberties were taken in the writing of this book, with characters making utterly ridiculous choices–the pair threaten to throw someone in Gitmo (bluffing, but still), Obama has taken up smoking again, and so on. This is, again, a satire, so this is not unforgivable, but in my opinion, the better satirical moments are the ones very closely rooted in reality–Biden goes to a diner and doesn’t order coffee, just ice cream; Biden’s narration uses corny phrases like “not worth a hill of beans,” and other cheesy goodness. They even had memes–at the start of the book, there is a single page that just says, “Acknowledgments: Thanks, Obama.”
Even with all his idiosyncrasies, though, Joe Biden’s character was surprisingly deep in all of his feelings, filled with mingled doubt and sadness about his physical aging, the deteriorating state of his relationship with Obama, and the feeling that maybe he didn’t make a difference and never will. These insecurities drive his impulsive behavior, so that even as he is making a muddle of this mystery, you can’t help but root for the poor guy. Plus, as mentioned previously, his narration is spot-on in its language; I could practically hear Biden’s voice in my head speaking every line, especially the ridiculous ones, as well as the ones that pull lines he has said many times in real life (e.g. “now, I don’t have a racist bone in my body…”). The author even thought to include Joe’s slight stutter when he gets flustered or upset. (Also, Biden’s sadness makes Obama look like kind of a dick–take that as you will.)
So, to answer a few other burning questions you might have:
Is this book super political? No, not really. Obviously Obama and Biden talk about how they feel like they accomplished things in the White House that the present administration is now undoing, but these statements are less an attack on Trump and more a point of character/plot development. Though there is a fair amount of talk about the opioid crisis, as it is central to the plot.
What about Biden running for President? This book is set before Joe declares his candidacy; at the end of the book, he is considering whether he wants to run or not. Fear not, the sleuthing does not interfere with a campaign.
Is the mystery that good? It’s okay. There were a few twists, but I had a pretty big suspicion about who the bad guy was from early on and ended up being proved correct. This one is more about characters and narration than it is about plot, but you do still get lots of clue-hunting, some action-packed scenes (car chases, shootout on a train), and a wide cast of characters.
How about the humor? Well, I definitely laughed out loud multiple times, and I internally chuckled and/or groaned quite a lot. So yeah, I would say it is pretty funny. The humor is very clean, mostly silliness.
Bromance or romance? Definitely bromance, just two dudes who are besties. There was one moment though that made me crack up because the two had to share a bed, after desperately trying to not have to do that (hello, fanfic tropes!).
In summation: a fun, if corny, read. For anyone filled with nostalgia for the Obama era, and anyone who ever shared an Obama-Biden meme, this one is for you. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but do expect a heck of a fun time.