Maybe it’s the fact that Joe Biden is now actually running as a candidate for President, but Hope Rides Again wasn’t quite as entertaining as the first Obama-Biden mystery Hope Never Dies. I was so excited when Michelle makes an appearance but there’s so little of her, and she has virtually no personality here. Such a lost opportunity there. Obama gets a little more personality, but Biden stays the same as the first book, and Steve has even less personality. That was kind of sad because Steve was a great counter-point to the Obama-Biden pair in the first book, and here he’s seems to have an even more unhealthy body image issue than the first book and more of a childish caricature who pouts and eats with his mouth open.
The basic mystery this time starts with a misplaced ex-Presidential Blackberry, but quickly shifts over to solving the shooting of a volunteer/member of a youth organization connected with the Obamas. Joe suspects someone close to the Obamas, suspecting at various points two community activists with gang-related connections or pasts. Joe gets in trouble wandering into bad parts of Chicago looking for clues, and all this is going down during the day or so of St. Patrick’s Day. Granted, that’s a big celebration in Chicago, but it gets brought up for no real reason here. Then there’s the bit where Joe runs into his apparently sort-of nemesis Rahm Emanuel and the mayor’s associate Bento-Box (real name: Benny Polaski) that seems a little pointless beyond Joe getting a typical warning to stay out of the investigation. The whole novel supposedly takes place in about 2 days, but the pacing doesn’t quite match that; it feels like a lot longer.
It would be nice if there was a little more character to Joe Biden here since he’s the main character and narrator. He’s still got that touch of inferiority around Obama and he still acts before thinking a good bit of the time. The humor also seems a bit more cliché here; the funniest bit was a not super funny fart joke made at a rather awkward moment towards the end of the story. And the repeated “I’m not talking about the birch massage” that Joe kind of accidentally on purpose stuck someone else with gag got old. Sigh.
Much like the last one, nearly all the little threads and red herrings get resolved, but one little piece still bugged me. Ok, two. First, Biden at one point illegally parks Steve’s rental car which then gets towed. Does Steve ever get the car back? Two, Obama supposedly gets really upset with Biden before the main confrontation with the real bad guy, and that never really quite gets addressed.
Hopefully this isn’t the end of the series, so that I can settle with this being a sophomore dip in quality, and book 3 will bring back the fun.