In between a mild case of insomnia and a fever dream, I had the time to read one of the strangest books I’ve ever seen published. I’m trying to be more cautious with money, but when a book makes me laugh out loud at the acknowledgements section in the first three pages- I have to buy it.
So Hope Never Dies is a Mystery novel about the death of a railway worker in Delaware and a casual friend begins to investigate as he’s implicated in the investigation. But there’s a twist; that casual friend if former US Vice President Joe Biden, so he- alongside former President Barack Obama- as they rekindle their friendship and go on a journey to solve the case of this mysterious death.
Right off the bat that sound like a really funny idea. But the real issue this book has is whether or not it can sustain itself outside of the general meme-worthiness of Joe Biden. I kept asking myself this question throughout the novel; if these were two original, fictional characters- would I give a shit?
Answer is probably no. For starters to create such a book you’d have to make some jarring changes. Such as the level of politician the protagonist is- because the reader couldn’t believe that a fictional president and vice president solve crimes together, but they’re willing to suspend belief for the non-fiction characters because it’s funny and charming.
But the idea only pulls along the plot so far and it starts to drag occasionally. Namely the first hundred pages, which are fairly slow. Granted, this isn’t an action packed novel (which it shouldn’t be) but a little more suspense could have been appreciated. The plot itself is straightforward, like any other mystery novel/serial noir. The obvious friend turned traitor is obvious and the story is as skin deep as you can get.
The strengths of the novel is of course the relationship between Barack and Joe, as soon as they’re in the same scene everything picks up. Granted their speech seems a little too clinical, they talk too much like politicians informally when they ought to be talking casually. But it seems the author did his research here, the first person narration from Joe Biden sounds true to his character and the representation of Barack Obama is perfect.
Some of the side characters are also pretty good, like Steve the Secret Service guy and Jill (Joe’s wife) alongside some railway workers. Other than that the characters are pretty forgettable or cliched in their motive- and nobody really complains about cliches unless they’re done badly.
Other reviewers and the book blurb itself denotes that the novel talks about the consequences of the opioid crisis- but in reality it barely constitutes a sentence. The Crisis at hand is remarkably complicated as it encircles social stigmas, corporate influences in the pharmaceutical industry and the failure of government facilities. There’s only one line about such a crisis and literally all it says is that after getting addicted to painkillers some people turn to heroin…that’s it.
Trump could spin more words on the subject and he knows fuck all.
The current US President is referenced sparingly and is never acknowledged by name. Which is a good thing as it adds a level of independence from the current social-political climate.
The vast majority of the politics discussed about in the novel are past accomplishments of the Obama administration i.e. passing Obama Care, killing Bin Ladin and fighting off the Tea Party. It never goes full in depth which leads me to believe that this novel isn’t just for people who like the occasional Joe Biden meme, but someone who is actively watching American Politics.
So marketing wise, this book has a very niche target audience. First you need to find people who are actively engaged in politics, that agree with your outlook and are interested in reading fiction- particularly Mystery thrillers. That’s a very small number and it’s unsurprising that very few places have even covered this book- hell, I’m surprised it’s been sold overseas.
I feel like if it wanted to be a political novel, it could have gone a hell of a lot deeper. Like making the victims healthcare provisions a vocal point of his motives, interacting with some railway workers struggling with their union’s influence, gone further into the opioid crisis- encountered some addicts who weren’t antagonistic.
Alongside this is the fact that many in the west, particularly American Democrats, seem to romanticise Obama. While he has brought reformations to the health care system and brought forward the Paris Accords and Iran Deal- his administration still pursued the War on Terror, escalating the Syrian refugee crisis and refused to pardon Edward Snowden for his whistle-blowing.
There’s only so much a meme can make someone overlook the obvious flaws of two career politicians.
In the end Andrew Shaffer debuts mediocre mystery novel that is saved/only really relevant due to the two protagonists being former heads of state. Often times it feels like an inside joke between the author and the editor, which spiralled into several long passages via text messages and eventually evolved into “Oh shit, I got to publish this- let me fix it up real quick.”
I feel like this book as a whole could have made a really great fifty page short story, but it lacks the depth to stretch out onto a three hundred page novel. It’s kind of like trying to make this short about Paul Revere’s horse into an hour long movie.
I recommend reading the book if you’re an ardent fan of the Obama Presidency and live for those Joe Biden memes, but other than that you’re not missing much in terms of storytelling. The themes of ageing, change and friendship while true- have been presented in a lot better in many other stories.