Review: Hope Rides Again by Andrew Shaffer

Review: Hope Rides Again by Andrew ShafferHope Rides Again (Obama Biden Mysteries #2) by Andrew Shaffer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: humor, mystery, thriller
Series: Obama Biden Mystery #2
Pages: 288
Published by Quirk Books on July 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

Obama and Biden return in this thrilling sequel to the New York Times best-selling bromance-mystery HOPE RIDES AGAIN, this time in Chicago.
Following a successful but exhausting book tour, Joe Biden is looking forward to returning home. However, before he does, he's got one last stop to make: Chicago, where the Obama Foundation is holding its first annual global economics forum. Barack Obama has invited Joe to meet a wealthy left-leaning philanthropist, whose deep pockets Joe will need if he decides to run for president. Joe isn't even sure if wants to run...but he's not going to pass up a rare chance to reconnect with his one-time governing mate.
Joe and Obama barely have time to catch up before another mystery lands in their laps: Obama's prized Blackberry is stolen. When the suspect turns up comatose from a gunshot wound, local police are content with writing it off as just another gangland shooting. But Joe and Obama smell a rat.
In a race to find the shooter, Joe and Obama butt heads with their former compadre, Mayor Rahm Emanuel; follow a trail of clues through Chicago's South Side; go undercover inside a Prohibition-era speakeasy; and scale the Tribune Tower in a Die Hard-worthy final set-piece.
Robert Frost said "the woods are dreary, dark, and deep." So are the waters of Lake Michigan...and if Joe and Obama aren't careful, that's where they could wind up spending their retirement.

My Review:

This was the only thing I could face reading this weekend. Really, truly. Because…reasons. Obvious reasons.

When I read the first book in this series, Hope Never Dies, I read it for the nostalgia factor. Honestly, who didn’t? But at the time it was a bit like the joke about the bear dancing, in that you’re not surprised it’s done well, you’re pretty astonished that it’s done AT ALL.

And it was done better than expected. Not so much the mystery as recapturing the bromance between Biden and Obama.

This second outing is a bit more something. I’m not quite sure whether that something is serious or thoughtful or both. On the one hand, it’s hard to take either of these books seriously, and on the other hand, there’s quite a bit more of an attempt at capturing the actual moment in this one, where the last one was just pure escapist nostalgia.

The story here takes place on St. Patrick’s Day weekend of 2019, in a city that celebrates the day by painting the town red and turning the river green. Sweet home, Chicago, at least as the Blues Brothers used to sing it.

As this story goes, Biden is passing through Chicago at the behest of his friend and former boss, President Barack Obama, at the end of a long, grueling book tour. (A tour that in real life would have been for his 2017 book, Promise Me, Dad that reflects on the loss of his son Beau to brain cancer.)

But in this fictional version, the book is unnamed but Joe is at a real-life crossroads. He’s considering one more run at the Presidency – and we all know which way that decision went. How it all turns out is something we’ll discover tomorrow night, or Wednesday morning, or sometime later this month. (Also the reason I dug this book out of the virtually towering TBR pile in the first place.)

In the whirlwind 24 hours in which this mystery takes place, Joe and Barack keep taking turns, both with and occasionally without each other, to search for the President’s missing Blackberry, only to find themselves scraping the mean streets of Chicago, searching for the places where one kid went wrong, along with which of the adults in his life led him that way.

On the surface, it’s a story about saving the life of one young man. Underneath, it might be a story about saving the soul of America. Wouldn’t that make a great campaign slogan?

Escape Rating B: One of the things I was not expecting from this story was just how steeped in nostalgia for Chicago it turned out to be. Even if that nostalgia was a mixture of love for Chicago as it is now, in all of its sprawling, brawling and seedy glory, and the Chicago of popular imagination of its storied past, the Chicago of the broad shoulders and the even bigger guns.

Because in this story there’s certainly an element of the Chicago way from the movie The Untouchables, with its iconic line, “Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way,”

In Hope Rides Again, that’s still the Chicago way. The city is still politically corrupt, everyone is still on the take, and influence and justice are for sale to the highest bidder or the biggest gun. It’s the Chicago that the victim was in up to his neck, in spite of being tapped for the former President’s “Rising Stars” program.

It’s this Chicago that our surprisingly still dynamic duo have to investigate in order to find out who is really behind – not that theft of the President’s Blackberry – but rather a heist that has the potential to put a whole lot more unregistered guns on the streets of Chicago. There’s already more than enough violence in that powder keg, no one needs to throw more fuel on that fire.

In this middle of this rather crazed mystery thriller, complete with car chases, boat chases, the threat of swimming with the fishes in Lake Michigan (in OMG March when the lake is truly freezing) and the helicopter rescue featured on the book’s cover, there’s a story about the enduring friendship between two men who originally had nothing in common, with the surprising twist that the older man is thinking about continuing the younger man’s legacy – and not the other way around.

A lot of this story is just purely for fun. And nostalgia of all kinds. When this was published in July of 2019 Biden had launched his campaign, but even the Iowa caucuses were still months in the future. As was the COVID19 pandemic.

At the time this was published, it was more in the nature of fun speculation than anything else. And in that light the amount of time that the author spends inside Joe’s head feels a bit odd. I wanted more mystery and more banter. It’s possible the internal speculation just feels weird because this is a real person whose thought processes can only be speculated about, set at a time period when we have to wonder what was being pondered and decided. YMMV

Let’s face it, this is not a book that’s going to have lasting literary value – and it shouldn’t. It is still a whole lot of fun, although not quite as much fun as the first book. But it was definitely a good reading time and a great way to get my mind off of Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

More than anything, I can’t help but think of the title as both a description and a prayer. Hope is riding again. I want it to win the race.

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew ShafferHope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Obama Biden Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Quirk Books on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

My Review:

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

While I will not judge this book by its cover, I will say that I absolutely did pick this book up for its cover. Which I absolutely could not believe when I saw it, and couldn’t resist once I read the blurb.

Which is completely insane – but all too hilarious – both at the same time.

There is no doubt that this is a terrific piece of what is called “real person fanfic”, which is a thing in fanfiction circles. While fanfiction is usually written about fictional characters, no matter the source, just as there is fanfiction about movie and TV characters there is also fanfiction about the actors who play those characters. When it’s romance fanfic, that can seem a bit creepy and/or stalkerish and is frowned upon in some circles.

One thing that is common in fanfiction in general is the way that the stories often go places that the creator of the original work never intended, and generally the further afield those places are the more it adds to the fun.

This is the kind of story where you don’t so much willingly suspend your disbelief as throw it out the window of a speeding muscle car, like oh, say, the Trans Am that Joe and Barack end up powering through the streets of Wilmington Delaware in the course of this case.

Because this piece of real person fanfiction is a noir-ish murder mystery. And a fairly complicated one – with comic relief provided by this extremely amateur pair of occasionally bumbling wannabe detectives.

Admittedly “Amtrak Joe” Biden does most of the bumbling, while Barack Obama provides even more “cool” than he displays in real life.

The scene of Obama rescuing Biden from a motorcycle gang by casually firing a sawed-off shotgun while lying about Seal Team 6 waiting in the wings was absolutely priceless.

There is a mystery at the heart of this wild and crazy road novel, and it’s all about a good man gone wrong and a bad man hiding in plain sight finally brought low by a couple of past and possibly future politicians who are searching for a third act in their lives.

And who discover that their enduring friendship is the greatest gift of all.

Escape Rating B-: As mysteries go, this is no Murder on the Orient Express or even The Word is Murder. The red herrings are plenty tasty, but our amateur detectives do fumble and bumble a lot, even more than Inspector Clouseau.

And I can’t deny that the whole effort has a very strong whiff of the bear dancing, in that you are not surprised that it is done well, you are surprised that it is done AT ALL.

But it is done considerably better than the outrageous premise might lead one to believe.

What makes the mystery part of this work is that we see this fictional version of Joe Biden as an essentially honest man who wants to see justice done for a good friend – and who admittedly is uncertain where he goes next in his life.

His dilemma about what happens after you’ve been to the top, or at least to your own personal top, is pretty easy to identify with. We all get there sooner or later.

What makes the story work, and makes the reader willing to go along for the ride, is the combination of the sometimes over-the-top but occasionally spot on banter between Obama and Biden, and the first-person perspective of the story through fictional Joe Biden’s eyes.

If you are looking for an antidote to the political insanity in every newspaper and on every newscast, Hope Never Dies is a somewhat rueful, slightly nostalgic, always engaging treat.