Is it mere coincidence or the beginning of a trend? First, former president Bill Clinton co-writes a potboiler (with some guy named James Patterson) about an embattled Democratic president with a kick-a** résumé (Army Ranger, POW, minor-league baseball player and loving single dad) who saves the United States from annihilation.
Now, former president Barack Obama and former vice president Joe Biden have been reimagined as a dynamic detective duo in a thriller about the opioid epidemic called "Hope Never Dies," by Andrew Shaffer. If, in the next year, Jimmy Carter surfaces as either the author or the star of a suspense novel, we'll know we're witnessing the emergence of a fad in which Democratic former presidents and vice presidents return to fix - in fiction - a world gone wrong.
For all its much-mocked faults (canned dialogue, eyelash-thin character development), "The President Is Missing," the Clinton-Patterson confection, is a pure page-turner. Whoever staple-gunned that plot together knew just how to position red herrings, explosions, double crosses and big reveals. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the drowsy plot of "Hope Never Dies."
The opening premise here is that a veteran Amtrak conductor, whom Biden befriended during his long years in the Senate commuting between Delaware and Washington, is found dead on a deserted stretch of train track outside Wilmington. Given that a bag of heroin is found in the dead man's pocket, police theorize that he passed out on the tracks, just another victim of drugs. But Biden can't believe it. Bored with his post-vice-presidential afterlife of taking naps, grouting bathroom tile and waiting for his globe-trotting former BFFL, Barack, to call, Biden leaps at the opportunity to be useful. Soon, he's racing around the hash houses and taverns of his beloved Wilmington, carrying out a cockeyed investigation into who drugged and dumped his old Amtrak conductor buddy on those tracks.
The hook here is that Biden doesn't go it alone for very long. Indeed, the murder simply serves as an excuse to reunite Joe and Barry in what turns out to be a wacky buddy story. The whole allure of "Hope Never Dies" is encapsulated in this paperback novel's brilliant cover illustration: Joe grimacing in determination behind the wheel of his Camaro convertible, with Barack rising up beside him on the passenger side, tie flying, right arm pointing forward. That image all but shouts: "Yes We Can" . . . solve this crime! And, by extension, "Yes We Can" . . . set a rotten world right again! For some readers, that cover illustration alone - and the fantasy it conjures up - will be worth the price of this book.