Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Review of IQ by Joe Ide (2016, Mulholland)

Growing up in a poor L.A. neighbourhood Isaiah Quintabe (IQ) was on track for a university scholarship when his brother Marcus was killed in a hit-and-run. Isaiah starts spinning stories to keep social services at bay and working jobs and taking in a lodger, a hustler and drug-dealer he meets at school, Dodson, to pay the rent. His grades takes a nose-dive as he obsesses with tracking down his brother’s killer. Several years later and Isaiah is the go-to neighbourhood detective who’ll solve cases for whatever clients can pay. He still hasn’t shed Dodson, who brings him a new case – a rap star who fears his life is in danger. The star is paranoid, surrounded by sycophants, haunted by his ex-wife, and hassled by the record company boss for a new album. He’s everybody’s meal ticket, but he might be worth more to them dead than alive. And it seems that someone has hired a lunatic assassin who when he can’t use his gun employs his one hundred and thirty-five pit bull as a weapon. IQ’s job is to identify and stop the assassin, regardless of the dangers, though only the rapper seems to care as to whether he’ll succeed.

IQ is the first book in the Isaiah Quintabe series that charts the cases of a L.A.-based, unlicensed private investigator. Isaiah is not the usual PI. He works out of his house and car and his jobs are all sourced through word-of-mouth, are nearly all neighbourhood-based, and his payment is whatever his clients can afford – food, goods, cash. Bought up in a poor part of the city dominated by drugs and gangs, Isaiah was on the path to escape poverty through his intellect before fate intervened. Now he is trying to atone for past sins. In this opening book Ide tells two tales. The first is set in 2005 and is IQs origin story and his transition from star pupil to dropout detective. The second is set in 2013 and is his present case, investigating a possible assassination attempt on a star rapper. There’s a lot to like about IQ. In a marketplace of derivative detectives Isaiah manages to find a niche – black, reserved, complex, conflicted, smart, principled but with a closet full of secrets and regrets, rooted in his neighbourhood yet somehow still apart. And Dodson, his loud-mouthed, hustler partner acts a good sidekick foil. The characters and the second storyline play as a kind of homage to Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and in this outing, The Hounds of the Baskervilles, but have their own distinct take. The double story line works well, balancing back story with present case, and provides a strong sense of place and also a view of gang culture, crime, community and the music biz. Ide spins the stories out with an undercurrent of humour, and a nice mix of pathos and action. Overall, an engaging and entertaining read and very nice opening to what promises to be a good series.

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