Joe Ide, IQ (Mullholland Books, 2016)
Detective novels are a dime a dozen, and have been just about forever. If you’re going to break into the genre successfully, as hundreds of authors try to do per year, you have to come up with an angle. Devilish mysteries. A pace the reader has never seen before. Complexity, but on a scale the laymen can understand. Amazing characters. Now we have debut author Joe Ide, who did a fantastic job with the last of those to come up with IQ.
Isaiah Quintabe, known in his neighborhood of East Long Beach as IQ, makes about as much sense in East Long Beach as the Gilligan’s Island crew would in Queens. Quiet, unassuming, the owner of a muscle-car Audi that would normally be stolen within seconds in his driveway. What keeps him from getting bullied into the dust? IQ grew up there, and the reason he didn’t light out for the territories as soon as he could is that he’s giving back. The police in the area have a storied history of avoiding the crime- and gang-ridden neighborhood, and IQ gets by by solving the crimes the cops ignore, everything from missing persons to murder. The cops ignore him as much as the crimes; he’s unlicensed, has no friends on the force, and as a result often gets paid in baked goods. As we open, Isaiah’s in need of a good score, something that will get him the 30% down payment on a condo he’s eyeing. Financial desperation brings him into contact with Juanell Dodson, an acquaintance from IQ’s shady past, and the multi-platinum rapper Black the Knife, who’s convinced someone’s out to kill him, and has closed circuit footage of an attack by a massive pit bull as evidence. With the promise of a fifty thousand dollar payday if he nabs the would-be assassin, no matter how much the case stinks, it’s too good to pass up.
Ide switches, roughly chapter to chapter, between the present case and IQ’s high school days, the formative events that made him a detective. Initially, the earlier parts seemed like a distraction, but the more details from those fed into IQ’s becoming a detective, the better they got, so that’s a minor quibble. In a bold move, he also made the actual case relatively easy going; this isn’t one of those novels where the detective has to gather everyone in the drawing room at the end to explain how he figured it out. You might think that would let the mystery factor fly out the window now and again, but it doesn’t; for all that IQ reports his suspicions to everyone else in the room as he goes along (and he’s usually right), rest assured Ide has packed the book with enough herrings, macguffins, and twists to keep you guessing, including one that has its payoff in the book’s last sentence that’s a beautiful punch in the gut. The result of the reader being able to follow along with the case that easily, perhaps paradoxically, is that at least for me, I found myself endeared to the novel more than usual, and I ended up blowing through it in a couple of days. Didn’t want to put it down.
I’ve seen comparisons to Elmore Leonard, but the name I kept wanting to throw out while I was reading was Robert Parker’s; Ide’s got that same sort of constantly wisecracking attitude, and IQ reminded me of good old Hawk more than once. But comparisons aside, Ide is his own writer, and this is as fresh and original as anything you’ll find in this tired genre. I started off referring to the book’s awesome characters, and man, are they fun. The drug dealer who consistently misuses fifty-cent words and makes himself look like an idiot? I wish I’d thought up that guy myself. And, of course, beware of taking any character in the book at face value; some of these cats have layers that pop out at the perfect time for maximum effect.
This is a fun, fun debut, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Ide’s got up his sleeve next time out. *** 1/2