Hope Never Dies, by Andrew Shaffer

My Copy: 9781683690399 (image from bn.com)

(sigh)

I really wanted to like this book. I browsed and found it and just busted out laughing. The cover caught my eye and made me wonder.

And that’s probably the best part of the whole thing.

I stopped around 2/3 of the way through, so take this review with a grain of salt.

Hope Never Dies has an interesting premise that made me pick it up, because honestly, what do former vice presidents do once they’re out of office and they’re not making speeches or going back to congress? You don’t really hear about that. I only hear about Al Gore because of his environmental work and lectures and whatnot. Otherwise, I can’t think of what any other vice president has done.

So, Joe Biden’s been at home just doing little stuff and gets word that a conductor on the Amtrak that he rode all the time, and a friend, died on the tracks. He finds this out from Obama himself, and they’re curious because the dead man had a map with Joe’s house pointed out. They’re wondering what the man had to say.

This starts a very odd mystery story, from Joe’s POV, that’s got some flavoring of Sam Spade of Philip Marlowe when it comes to observations and whatnot, but it’s quite light. It’s an odd romp where Obama kinda pops in and out and then they’re in it the whole way with a rather frustrated Secret Service agent in tow for most of it.

It’s got the makings of old noir-ish storytelling, of multiple jurisdictions vying for things, of cover ups and ineptitude, of police departments keeping it close to the vest or sweeping it under the rug.

The tone has something going for it, but the overall plot just feels like it’s stretched too thin, far beyond the boundaries of good mystery writing. Someone called it liberal fanfiction, a continuation of the adventure of Obama and Biden, buds who are on the same side that in our current political climate we’d love to see far more of. I think that’s about the most accurate summation, and I’m afraid that I’ve read lots of fanfiction that felt better than this book.

Never thought I’d say that. Wow.

It’s got a storytelling feel of noirish mixed with a light version of the bromance of Holmes and Watson, but not the classic kind. Joe’s annoyance, injuries, whatnot all remind me more of the blunt and simmering Martin Freeman version of Watson. And yet there’s very little of the Holmesishness with Obama. It’s rather like Holmes went on vacation and Lestrade ended up giving some info to Watson to see what he’d do without the master puzzler at his side.

Boy that feels weird to write.

Then again, I didn’t finish reading it so maybe that part comes through later…

But I digress.

I wanted to like it. I wanted this book to take the pressure off the valve after all that’s going on. Maybe I’m just not in the best place to read it mentally. I figured it would have a lot of humor and character exaggeration, be some kind of comedy-noir hybrid. But nope, it plays the mystery and the interactions too straight and too farfetched at the same time. The farfetched part is having Biden and Obama doing this at all.

Had Joe ever been a cop (rather than lawyer and politician), then having him involved so deeply in the events with a personal connection would make more sense. Hell, going back to being a lawyer and having a John Grisham-like setup of the investigator-lawyer would’ve made sense. But it didn’t go that way. And since Obama was a lawyer, too… hey, that would work even better.

I wish I could have enjoyed this book, it just felt like it was trying too hard or not hard enough to be something it wasn’t going to be. But do take a look at the book’s cover–that cover art is awesome. Just wish the story within the pages felt as humorous and impressive.

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