Created by Joe Ide
At the debut of this popular series, the publisher suggested Joe Ide’s new streetwise-ish urban Los Angeles troubleshooter, ISAIAH “I.Q.” QUINTABE was “part Tarantino, part Sherlock Holmes,” but after reading it, I’d suggest there’s a healthy dollop of The Three Investigators‘ “gee whiz” baked right into the mix.
The Investigators’ Jupiter Jones springs to mind — another confident, if eccentric, young genius who trusts in logic. And, for all his attempts to be hard-boiled, there’s still something boyish and almost sweet about IQ. I mean, he may be a professional, but he’ll work for cookies.
IQ isn’t living in a loopy but essentially benign white-bread SoCal suburb where evil lurks at the Scooby Doo level. Nope, IQ’s universe is infinitely more dark and dirty — it’s a gang-ridden, crime-plagued ‘hood where dreams — and children — disappear. For good. And people get killed. For real.
And the police always seem to show up too late. If they show up at all.
That debut, IQ (2016) was a rattling call to arms, alternating between origin story and detective story. Left on his own after his beloved older brother Marcus dies, Isaiah, an honour student with a supercharged brain, drops out of high school and reluctantly takes in a boarder, a sometime dealer named Dodson. He may be a pint-sized chatterbox and would-be gangsta and ladies’ man whose bark is definitely worse than his bite, but Dodson soon becomes Isaiah’s ally in a brief but mostly successful stint as professional thieves. But as IQ rolls into his twenties, he decides to become a sort of neighbourhood Sherlock, with Dodson serving as his Watson. At first the investigations are mostly minor; small favours done for neighbours with payment often made in trade or other goods (live chickens, anyone?).
But IQ’s not above taking a “payday case,” as when someone sics a gigantic pit bull dog on legendary rapper Black the Knife (a.k.a. “Calvin Wright”). But who sends a dog to kill a man? And, assuming it was a failed hit, who would hire such a person? The ex-wife? A professional rival? A member of his own entourage? Cal is willing to pay big bucks to find out.
The ensuing investigation is a hoot, caught somewhere between Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, particularly when the canine-adverse Dodson goes to the dogs. Meanwhile, the rapper’s loosening grip on reality gets played for big, almost cartoonish laughs, and the assorted lowlifes, scam artists, hanger-ons and oddballs that fill Cal’s world aren’t exactly portraits of mental health either. Then there’s that gun nut dog breeder…
It was a fun read, with Dodson’s one-man Greek chorus a particular delight, my only gripe being that the two competing narrative threads too often simply ran parallel, undercutting each other’s narrative push, making for an enjoyable but at times uneven read. But having seen where Isaiah and Dodson had come from, I was looking forward to seeing where Ide would take them next.
The answer came soon enough, with the next year’s Righteous, which begins at the exact same spot that IQ left us, albeit eight years later, with IQ in a junkyard, eyeballing the car that killed her beloved brother.
Of course, finally getting to the bottom of Marcus’ death is just one of the many plots that criss-cross through the book. There’s a Chinese girl with a severe gambling jones, a gigantic loan shark, a one-legged Rwandan thug and girlfriend problems to deal with, plus a Chinese triad, some human traffickers and money launderers, and a road trip to Vegas. And another ending that will leave you wanting more. Which Ide has promptly delivered since, starting with Wrecked (2018).
As Isaiah has slowly matured, and the cast of supporting characters has gradually expanded, IQ has sometimes seemed lost in his own series. 2021’s Smoke seems to find him–and the series–at a turning point, seemingly ready to once more take charge. We shall see.
- “The weed smelled like somebody pissing on a pile of burning leaves.”
- “They stepped behind the door as a sleepy-eyed buck-naked white girl clumped past in the hall, her booty like a backpack that had slipped down too low.”
STRAIGHT FROM THE AUTHOR’S MOUTH
- “I wanted to be black, but I knew I wasn’t.”
- IQ (2016) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Righteous (2017) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Wrecked (2018) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
- Hi Five (2020) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
- Smoke (2021) | Buy this book | Buy the audio | Kindle it!
- Joe Ide: The mean streets that inspired his series of crime novels
From The Sydney Morning Herald (October 2018). I read ’em all, folks.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Portions of this entry first appeared in Mystery Scene. Used with permission.