I knew I was going to have to read this book when I saw the cover. I didn’t even know what it was about, but I knew I needed this. As it turns out, Hope Never Dies is a pretty good mystery featuring Joe Biden and Barack Obama as a crime solving duo. Uncle Joe narrates the story of his friend Finn’s suspicious death on an Amtrak line in Wilmington, Delaware. Writer Andrew Shaffer, in this his first mystery, unravels a tale of railway life, drugs, gangs, and, as a delightful side note, of friendship.
When the story opens, Joe is having some trouble getting used to retirement. The real problem is not so much that he is divorced from the DC hustle and bustle as much as he and Barack Obama are somewhat estranged. Joe had thought of Barack as his best friend, yet Barack has barely been in touch with him and is busy hanging out with celebrities, parasailing and whatnot. Joe is hurt and jealous. On top of that, his old buddy Finn Donnelly, an Amtrak conductor whom he has known for decades, has died a horrific death — run over by the very train he had run for years. Joe learns about Finn’s untimely death from none other than Barack Obama, who materializes from the shadows of the Biden back yard, cigarette in hand. Despite being out of office, Obama has access to information and a Secret Service detail (Steve). A map with Joe Biden’s address was found in Finn’s desk and he is concerned about Joe’s safety, especially since former Vice Presidents don’t get security details. Joe is devastated by Finn’s death and what it will mean for his wife and daughter, and he is still hurt and angry with Obama. Yet, Barack is there, with his driver/security guy Steve, and it seems as if he is willing to help Joe get to the bottom of what happened to Finn. And so the adventure begins.
Amtrak Joe has connections of his own —in the Wilmington Police Department and at Amtrak. He has promised Finn’s daughter that he will get to the bottom of what happened to Finn. Wilmington PD suspects it’s a suicide but Joe can’t believe Finn would do that to his daughter and ailing wife. Even more unbelievable is that drugs were found on Finn’s body. Was he a user? Joe can’t believe it. What he can believe is that this could be a case of foul play. He is trying to keep a low profile, keep his name out of the papers, but his interest in the case is annoying the detective who is in charge of it and Obama’s bodyguard Steve. In one particularly hilarious scene, Joe and Barack ditch Steve and hide out in a rundown hotel. As details emerge about Finn’s past, his co-workers and the drug problem in Wilmington, Joe gets deeper into a dangerous situation involving a motorcycle gang called the Marauders. Even though Joe is sore at Barack and doesn’t want his help, Obama does appear at fortuitous moments. Another great scene involves Biden and Obama interrogating a gang member. Obama, as ever, is calm, cool and collected, while Joe is feeling his age.
Before the mystery is solved, Joe will give Barack a piece of his mind and try to solve the mystery alone. There is the obligatory thrilling scene aboard a swiftly moving train before a satisfying conclusion to both the mystery and the Obama/Biden friendship problems. I have to say, I found the writing to be delightful. It’s impossible to read this and not hear Joe Biden’s voice. If they could get him to do the audio recording, I would buy it in a heartbeat! It’s full of very Biden-like descriptions, such as the police detective who has a reputation for being “tough as a two-dollar steak.” When Biden describes his prowess as a football player in his younger days, he refers to his legs as “getaway sticks”. He and Obama argue over disguises and whether that gecko in the insurance ads is Australian or British. And they play a game called POTUS, SCOTUS or FLOTUS, wherein you name three women and …. Well, you can probably figure it out. In addition to this humorous writing about two people I think most of us miss like hell, Shaffer also provides the reader with factual information about Amtrak, life in Wilmington and the drug problem there. This is a solid mystery and just the thing for these times when hope is hard to find. Uncle Joe is on our side. Thanks, Obama!