Books

REVIEW | 'HOPE NEVER DIES' Humor guides engaging political mystery

After eight years as president and vice president of the United States, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are available for new adventures. That’s just what they find in Andrew Shaffer’s new novel, “Hope Never Dies.” The book, narrated by Biden, recounts the efforts of the famous duo to get to the bottom of the suspicious death of an Amtrak conductor whom the senator-turned-VP counted as a friend.

It’s a great setup for a humorous mystery novel, but it would be all too easy to let the comedic possibilities run away with the book. Shaffer, a native of Cedar Rapids, doesn’t let that happen, however, delivering instead a tight mystery novel that also follows the arc of a romance novel — with the Obama/Biden bromance at its heart.

Shaffer renders Biden’s voice convincingly, focusing on his folksy charm rather than his penchant for cursing a blue streak. He nods toward the tragedies in Biden’s life — including the death of his son — without explicitly exploring them. And he serves up a no-drama Obama — cerebral, enigmatic, loyal and driven (and also smoking again).

Of course, Shaffer’s plot can hardly be expected to hew to the restrictions of gritty, realistic mystery fiction (and there is none of the sex you might expect to find in a romance novel, though our protagonists do share a bed at one point). But the implausibility of the plot is an essential part of the book’s success as the two politicians take on new roles for which they are not perfectly suited. The jokes range from the subtle to the groan-inducing and the action-to-dialogue ratio is just about perfect.

A sequel is on the horizon for “Hope Never Dies,” and I, for one, am hopeful it will be just as engaging as this first entry. Shaffer’s got my vote for mystery writer to watch.

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