'Hope Never Dies' takes readers on wild Amtrak ride

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Quirk Books
CHICAGO — A veteran Amtrak conductor is found dead on the tracks, apparently killed by the very Acela train that he has worked for years. From initial appearances, Finn Donnelly’s death was a suicide. Or was it?

One man’s not buying it: Joe Biden. Yeah, that Joe Biden, the guy who — before he became vice president — rode the train every day for decades to his job in Washington, D.C., representing the citizens of Delaware in the U.S. Senate. Every railroader between Wilmington, Del., and Washington knows “Amtrak Joe” and he, in turn, knows every conductor, and can probably name their grandkids, too.

So what happens when Biden and his old pal, Barack Obama —both finished with public office and trying to reinvent their lives — decide to team up to investigate Donnelly’s death? You get “Hope Never Dies,” which is one part murder mystery, one part thriller and several parts parody and satire.

This 300-page romp (Quirk Books), by the clever humorist Andrew Shaffer (best known for “Fifty Shames of Earl Grey,” a best-selling takeoff on “Fifty Shades of Grey”), takes readers on a totally implausible but highly amusing tour of back-alley Wilmington. Along the way are hinky cops, dedicated railroaders, a die-hard Secret Service agent and a Monty Python-like motorcycle gang.

Scattered among the pages are every hard-boiled detective novel cliche Shaffer could think of. “Esposito had the gravelly voice of a pack-a-day smoker. It was the first time I’d heard her voice, but it perfectly matched her reputation for being as tough as a two-dollar steak.”

That’s not a knock on the book — it’s all in fun, and it’s indeed funny.

Despite the Holmes-and-Watson pairing of Obama and Biden, “Hope Never Dies” isn’t about politics, although Shaffer can’t help including some bipartisan digs. It’s just a lark. And there are enough Amtrak-related plot turns to hold the interest of railfans.

Shaffer tells Trains News Wire that he conducted as much railroad research as possible.

“I started to do a deep dive into all things Amtrak,” Shaffer said. “I read a couple books, including a self-published book by a former engineer. I tried to absorb as much as I could.”

The author admits that instead of riding trains, he found all he needed online, including many videos of passenger train excursions.

“There are people who will upload pretty much their entire trip on YouTube,” Shaffer said. “It was kind of strange to me, but apparently not to many others.”

Shaffer has become something of a railfan since riding Amtrak during his current book tour.

“Oh my gosh, I can get so much work done (on the train),” Shaffer said. “It was such a breath of fresh air after traveling by plane and by car, to sit down on a train. It was so peaceful.”

That peace is elusive in the book, in which the final action climax takes place — appropriately enough — aboard the Acela. There, Joe Biden is channeling his inner Tom Cruise.

The jokes and action make “Hope Never Dies” a pleasurable, escapist read on any intercity train ride. And, without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that Biden and Obama will even survive for a future adventure.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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  • August 09, 2018
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