By Azam Gill
New York Times bestselling author Andrew Shaffer’s HOPE NEVER DIES is part quirky mystery-adventure and part bromance, featuring Barack Obama and Jo Biden in the roles of Sherlock and Watson.
Joe Biden, fresh out of a job as vice president, is weighing his options. Then his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving the victim’s family in shreds. Biden decides to take matters into his own hands, and teams up with trusty old Barack Obama to clear up the mystery.
Watching each other’s backs, the duo plumbs the darkest corners of Delaware, well known for being a tax haven for corporations and a front-line casualty of America’s opioid epidemic. Their noir milieu of investigation is a far cry from the five-star haunts of former presidents and vice-presidents as six-figure consultants and lecturers. From cheap motels to tough biker bars, a car chase, a tense showdown on a moving train and more, they tangle with sinister forces. Wilmington, Delaware, Biden’s hometown, opens up its dark underbelly to these endearing investigators by default.
HOPE NEVER DIES offers a fine balance of realism and the ridiculous, blended by Shaffer’s craftsmanship, and will be a welcome comfort for readers pining for the Obama-Biden era.
Up until the last segment of his presidency, Obama had remained an engineer of hope, starting from his authorship of The Audacity Of Hope, to riding his stirring campaign slogan of “yes we can” on which he rode into office. His engineering, partly retrieved by Hilary Clinton, was overtaken by Donald Trump’s promise to “make America great again.”
Actually, if audacity can make hope infinite, then it certainly thrives in the fictional Obama-Biden duo and the real-life Shaffer. A character like Rudyard Kipling’s Kim was boldly retrieved by T. N. Murari and adroitly continued in The Imperial Agent. Shaffer goes beyond Murari by daring to appropriate living personalities and turning the reality of their existence on its head: “I have a small home office, but I prefer to write at coffee shops. There are fewer distractions—no television—and writing feels less like a lonely endeavor when you’re surrounded by people.”
Hemingway, too, preferred not to write at home, although his preference was nicotine-positive bars frequented by blue-collar Paris toughs.
Although Shaffer kick-starts his novels with a short synopsis, he doesn’t bind himself to a detailed outline, which “drains the pleasure out of the writing process. The same with characters. They reveal themselves to me as I’m writing. Characters don’t like to be cornered either.”
There is no doubt that, upheld by the amateur sleuths, HOPE NEVER DIES delivers.
The answer to why Obama and Biden became the main protagonists and how the novel would be affected if he were to replace the duo with other characters, is best left to Shaffer to explain: “The first time I saw Biden in those aviator shades, I thought, ‘There’s an action hero.’ Of course, he’s always had a mild case of foot-in-mouth disease, so I saw him as more of a Don Quixote character than a James Bond.
“But Obama? Obama’s got that classic James Bond vibe, minus the vices. He’s cool. He’s calm. Together, they’re such a great pair. When the ‘bromance’ memes started making the rounds on the Internet, I knew there was interest there. From that point, it was only a matter of execution.
“On how replacing Obama and Biden would that affect the novel, I would have had to spend more time setting up the characters… A lot of the humor in the book comes from them being established characters with a rich history together. It would be a very different book.”
Author of more than a dozen humorous works of fiction and nonfiction, Shaffer’s dedication to writing is implicit but, unlike Agatha Christie, he’s had a life-long passion with reading that fills his spare time: “I’ve always read mysteries and thrillers, so it’s a little surprising that it’s taken me so long to publish one.”
His favorite writers are Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, Donald E. Westlake, Earl Stanley Gardner and above all, Daniel Friedman, whose Buck Schatz series he considers “spectacular … I’ve been writing almost as long as I’ve been reading. I can’t say why, exactly. I was encouraged to write by grade-school teachers, by my parents, by my grandparents. In college, I had a writing teacher tell me I could write for a living, if I wanted to. That was 20 years ago—and today I’m writing for a living. It’s not an easy path, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
HOPE NEVER DIES will feed nostalgia for the recent past among Obama-Biden fans disenchanted with America’s current leadership. Just as, during the last part of Obama’s presidency, nostalgia for a bygone era was well-played by Donald Trump’s campaign team to usher him into the White House.
Although the “hope” of the Obama campaign was built on the future, Donald Trump’s “hope” was the offer of resurrection, whereas Hilary Clinton promised enhanced continuity. The nostalgia that worked for Donald Trump might now be roped in and harnessed by his opponents and detractors, although with what results is anybody’s guess. Obama fans will have to nurse their own nostalgia while an author of Shaffer’s talent enshrines the Obama-Biden duo into folk legend, perhaps all the way to Hollywood.
Andrew Shaffer is the New York Times bestselling author of Syfy’s How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters, the satirical thriller The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America, and many other humorous fiction and nonfiction books.
His most recent book, Ain’t Got Time to Bleed: Medical Reports on Hollywood’s Greatest Action Heroes, is out now in hardcover from Insight Editions/Simon & Schuster.
A television drama based on his novel-in-progress Tapped is currently in development at Freeform, with The Pretty Little Liars’ I. Marlene King and The Vampire Diaries‘ Paul Wesley producing.
He has appeared as a guest on FOX News, CBS, and NPR, and has been published in McSweeney’s, Mental Floss, Inc., and Maxim. An Iowa native, Shaffer lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife, novelist Tiffany Reisz.
To learn more about him and his work, please visit his website.