TITLE: IQ (IQ #1)
AUTHOR: Joe Ide
GENRE: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
PUBLISHED: October 18, 2016
PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon
MOBILISM LINK: Mobilism
Sherlock Holmes is quite the hot ticket in popular culture right now, as anyone can tell from the sheer amount of media that feature Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous creation. From television to film to print, from pastiche to homage, Sherlock Holmes is everywhere, especially in the form of characters that share his penchant for incisive logic to solve a case.
Of these “Holmes-esque” characters, Isaiah “IQ” Quintabe, protagonist of Joe Ide’s novel IQ is probably one of the more interesting. Isaiah shares many of the same qualities as Holmes: he is extremely intelligent and observant; he has antisocial qualities and does not always get along well with other people; and he is a consulting detective. However, unlike Holmes, Isaiah does not live in a comfortably-appointed apartment with a steady, if unknown, source of income. Instead, he lives in a less-than-glamorous part of East Long Beach, making a living by offering his services as a consulting detective, working cases that the police either can’t or won’t touch. He will accept anything in repayment, from free food to free equipment, but he prefers people who can actually pay - he has bills, after all. All in all, it’s not the worst kind of living a black high-school dropout like himself could make; after all, he could be working for the gangs, and he knows better than anyone that gang life is no kind of life at all.
Things change when an old acquaintance he has not spoken to in years puts a job in his way: a big shot rapper thinks someone is out to get him, and he wants to know who it is. Seems like an easy-enough job for IQ, and the money is nothing to sniff at. But the deeper Isaiah digs into the case, the more dangerous things become, and soon he realises that it might only be a matter of time before he finds himself backed into a corner and unable to solve his way out of it.
One of the more notable (and most noted, by other reviewers) aspects of this novel is the setting. Ide lived in the part of L.A. where this novel is set, and as a result has absorbed the culture and language of the people who live in it. This shows most clearly in the little details and descriptions that Ide uses to build the world for his reader. Take this excerpt, for example:
A group of East Side Sureños Locos 13 were hanging on a strip of grass near the entrance, a spot chosen with car. There was a low cinder block wall for cover and banana palms to hide their straps in. A lot of the homies were in county lockup for gun possession. Most of the Locos were in their teens but hard-core killas for real, everybody in uniform today. Baggy shorts, oversize white T-shirts or football jerseys, and a splash of red. A wristband, a cap, a flag hanging out of a pocket. Red was their color.
This level of detail is not surprising: Ide grew up in the same area as the setting for this novel, and so would be able to describe all aspects of the community - both good and bad - in excellent detail. But where Ide’s gift as a writer comes in is his ability to balance all of these details in such a way that it does not overwhelm readers who are unfamiliar with it. Take the following excerpt:
"Whassup, Isaiah?” Dodson said. “It’s been a long damn time. I ain’t laid eyes on you since we put Mozique to rest. That was a sad sad day, wasn’t it? Bad a nigga as he was I always thought he’d die by the sword and what happens? The boy wins the Trifecta at Santa Ana, drives over to Raphael’s to buy some weed, and gets hit by an Amtrak train. Just goes to show you, luck beats money any day of the week. You got to some luck the money will come looking for you.”
Using slang can be useful for developing both characters and settings without additional exposition, but it is a rather fine balancing act between the authenticity that slang can contribute, and the unfamiliarity of that slang to readers who are not a part of, or unaware, of the community that uses it. Ide, however, is able to walk that fine line, using just enough slang and dialect to add sufficient detail without overwhelming the reader. While it is true that Ide could have used more - after all, it is very easy for any reader to look up any unfamiliar terminology, no matter how obscure - he does not, a testament to his skill as a writer that he knows when too much would be too much.
Another notable aspect of this novel is how it looks into broader issues like racism and the problematic nature of celebrity culture. Ide does not address them directly or at length, but he does put them out there for the reader’s consideration. Take the following excerpt:
"How come it’s okay for you to use the N-word but it’s not okay for someone like me?”
“Let me make it real for you,” Stokely said. “If a nigga calls me a nigga I know what he means. But if you call me a nigga you might mean nigga.”
This conversation, which occurs between a white journalist and a black gang member, is not very long, but it does lend insight into the controversy behind the word “nigger” and how it is used within the black community versus outside of it. I have seen a few long, in-depth explanations as to why it is okay for black people to use the term amongst themselves and objectionable for anyone else (especially white people) to use it in reference to black people, but Ide is able to compact a lot of rhetoric and debate into just two lines of dialogue.
Ide also addresses a little-discussed but still important aspect of the rap and R&B music industry: homophobia. It occurs in the following excerpt:
The article recounted a number of neighborhood cases but the one that made the tabloids was the simplest to solve. It involved the R&B singer Blasé. Durin a party someone had stolen his camera, which contained a video of him bent over an ironing board getting pounded from behind by his live-in keyboard player. If the tape got out there’d be more than a scandal. Blasé prompted himself as a heterosexual sex symbol. The cover art of his last album, Can I Witness to Your Thickness, showed Blasé in a thong and priest’s collar leading a choir composed of three women in crazy blond wigs and shorty choir robes, their backsides bulging like babies were in there. …
“I need Blasé to help me with my career,” Deronda said. “He might be gay but he’s a celebrity…”
This is a common tactic employed throughout this novel: instead of discussing a particular issue at length, Ide incorporates them in little moments such as the example above, which add information and development while at the same time addressing important issues. This also helps keep the plot moving: an important aspect in a mystery, where uneven pacing can lessen the story’s impact.
In terms of characterisation, Ide is clearly trying to do something interesting with Isaiah and Dodson, who are supposed to be the “Holmes and Watson” of this book. Isaiah falls mostly in line with what most readers might expect from a Holmes-esque character, but there are deeper currents to him that surface only briefly in this novel. The flashback scenes offer some insight into his personality, but he is the kind of character that (again, much like Holmes) is most interesting when in action.
Dodson, on the other hand, is most assuredly not Watson. There is something in his buffoonery that might echo some portrayals of Watson in other media, but he is a character all his own - and of the kind that some readers might not immediately appreciate or enjoy. There is more to him, however, than meets the eye - though I will admit it took me longer than usual to see that truth, despite the hints scattered throughout the book. Still, he is quite a fun character to read about, and provides an excellent foil for Isaiah.
As for the plot, it is a fairly standard whodunit, not very different from many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own tales. What makes it interesting are the characters involved, and of course, reading how Isaiah wraps it all up. This whodunit alternates with flashbacks detailing Isaiah’s past and how he became a consulting detective. At times these flashback stories can be more interesting to read about than the whodunit at the heart of the novel, but I attribute that to the fact that the whodunit itself is actually fairly simple. Hopefully, Ide will choose to write a more layered, complex mystery for the sequel.
Overall, IQ is an interesting read, mostly because it feels so very new but also remarkably familiar: the whodunit plot at the heart of the novel is not so different from the many other whodunit stories out there, but the elements incorporated into it make it so much more interesting to read. It also helps that Isaiah and Dodson are interesting to read about: Isaiah, with his parallels to Sherlock Holmes, but not quite; and Dodson, who is not the kind of Watson most readers would imagine, and yet works anyway. I am looking forward to seeing more of them (but mostly more of Isaiah), and I am going to keep an eye out for the sequel, which should come out October this year.