Sequels are often notoriously disappointing. How lucky, then, that “Hope Rides Again: An Obama Biden Mystery” isn’t.
There’s that cover art again. This time, against a bright blue background, Joe Biden, aviator sunglasses firmly in hand, grips the forearm of Barack Obama, who’s hanging onto a rope ladder extending from the innards of a helicopter. There’s the same sense of urgency from the cover of the first novel in the series, made more so by ties flapping urgently in a rush of wind.
Then there’s the noir-ish dialogue, like this from Biden: “To do detective work, all you needed was a clue. Not only did I have that, I also had a suspect.”
Welcome back to Andrew Shaffer’s world of the Obama/Biden Mystery. (Yep, that Obama and that Biden.) Keep judgments about a second book to yourself. “Hope Rides Again” is an easygoing way to spend a lazy summer afternoon.
Two years have passed since the events of “Hope Never Dies.” In that book, Barack Obama entered the action by emerging from behind the nearest hedge at the Wilmington home of Joe Biden. This time, Obama emerges from under a banquet table in Chicago’s Tribune Tower, where he is to participate in a global economic forum. It seems POTUS has become separated from his Blackberry — again.
And what is VPOTUS doing there? He’s been invited by his former boss to meet possible supporters for a potential presidential bid in 2020. That tenacious Biden pursuit of truth and justice is an awfully hard thing to ignore. But for now, he’s sure he knows who stole the missing Blackberry — that is, until that young suspect is drilled full of lead.
The first novel takes place on Biden’s home turf. This new one takes place on Obama’s. Not only that: It is St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The local waters and beers have been turned green, and there’s an errant leprechaun shadowing Biden’s every move.
There’s another brilliant mélange of eccentrics and places for our two detectives to bump up against: an old record store and the occasional sleazy speakeasy, an independent bookstore and a Russian bathhouse. (Savor for just one quick minute the image of Obama and Biden taking steam in order to gather information.) There are a stripper and a gang war and a social justice activist rapper. There are brief appearances by constantly bemused former first ladies. There’s even Oprah Winfrey, an ongoing, if never seen, thorn in Biden’s political side.
No worries, though. There’s still Steve, the laconic, loyal Secret Service agent assigned to Obama; patient, professional Steve, who’s rented a highly burnished, black 1980 Firebird Trans Am for his coming vacation, just in time for the muscle car to be usurped by Biden and Obama to help speed along their investigations. There are also brief, sidelong glances at the political world that has replaced theirs.
Not that the book isn’t a thrill ride as well. There’s a rousing finale across Lake Michigan, complete with boat chases, explosions and a police helicopter. (It’s the one from the book’s cover.)
But the biggest pleasure of “Hope Rides Again” lies in the ongoing relationship between two old friends now in a kind of forced retirement, two old friends still at loose ends and still trying not to be. Shaffer’s restructuring of that relationship as a contemporary Holmes and Watson “bromance” is more sharply and comfortably delineated this time around, including a thoroughly silly, completely winning moment with the two old colleagues — like shameless teenagers — discussing the, um, digestive functions of the human body.
“Hope Rides Again” fulfills the promise of its predecessor. Early on, Andrew Shaffer has Obama say to Biden, “Not how you planned to spend your Saturday, is it?” That’s not going to be the case for anyone at the start of this downright disarming new addition to the Obama/Biden mysteries.
Steven Whitton is a retired Professor of English.