Mulholland Books, 336 pages, $26
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! “IQ” is one of the most creative mysteries I’ve read in a long time. After I had read about fifty pages, I stopped to find out more about author Joe Ide, because his portrayal of the gang/drug/non-white Long Beach, California scene seemed so authentic. (But what do I know, right?) In fact, Joe Ide grew up in South Central L.A. and “IQ” sounds authentic because it’s based on all the gang and street stuff Ide learned when he was a kid. Yet while it’s a novel that deals with rappers, gangs, drugs, poverty, neighborhood crime, its weight is thrown behind characters and their motivations. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like a print version of “The Wire” (a show for which I had to turn on the captions), although an “aw-ight” slips in now and then. Dialect is cleaned up to aid comprehension. Hardcore details are briefly acknowledged and not dwelt upon. You may come to this book because of reviews, but the amazing ability of Ide to capture the flavor of the neighborhood and its inhabitants is what will make you stay.
IQ is the nickname of Isaiah Quintabe, an accidental private investigator. When his older brother is killed in a hit-and-run automobile accident, leaving an underage Isaiah without a guardian, it plummets the promising high school student into a life of poverty, rage, and mental turmoil. A few years later, the adult Quintabe has established a tenuous place in the neighborhood as a Sherlock Holmes-like solver of crime (or just plain problems). How did he get from the fragile teenager to the hard-working adult? That story is what makes Ide’s book a thing of beauty.
Juanell Dodson is a character in both Isaiah’s past and his present. It’s clear Dodson is a shifty character, having been a gang member and drug dealer as a teenager. Now he appears to be a hustler who finds new business for Isaiah. Their relationship has never been easy, but a lot of murky water has passed under the bridge in the eight years since they were teenagers together. Dodson has a relative who works for the mega-star rapper Black the Knife, aka Calvin Wright. Through the relative, Isaiah and Dodson learn that someone is trying to kill Cal.
Cal has a video of the first attack. Someone sent a trained pit bull into his house to maul him. It is only through a series of flukes that Cal has lived to scream another day. In his own disjointed, nonsensical way, Cal wants Isaiah to pin the pit bull assassin on his ex-wife Noelle and stop any further attempts. That’s a tall order since Cal is surrounded by people who don’t necessarily have his best interests at heart. But the money is a mighty attractive incentive.
“IQ” toggles between Isaiah’s story in 2003, when he was a teenager recently bereaved of his older brother Marcus, and 2013, with Dodson and Cal and his assorted crew. To great effect, Ide answers all questions in his own time. There are many memorable characters along the way, including Deronda, a woman who initially appears in a comic role, and Skip, a truly comically frightening, psychopathic character. Just when Ide veers toward the lachrymose, he throws in an unexpected twister and the pages rapidly turn themselves.
MBTB star for originality and a stunning combination of poignancy and absurdity!