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When contemplating IQ, the brilliant debut novel from Joe Ide, it would be easy and lazy to reflexively reach into the reviewer’s box of tricks and say, “Ide writes like he’s channeling a collaboration between George Pelecanos and Elmore Leonard,” but that just doesn’t quite cut it. Yes, it’s in the neighborhood of true, but we’re looking for Accurate Street here. Ide writes like no one, and his character, Isaiah Quintabe, is not like anyone you’ve read before, in the best of all possible ways.

Isaiah Quintabe, the IQ of the title, is as one might expect: a very smart guy. One suspects that he is like his creator: he knows a lot about many things and at least something about everything else. Quintabe, as he calls himself, is a self-styled private investigator who as a general rule helps and assists the downtrodden of his East Long Beach neighborhood. He doesn’t have an office, per se, or a telephone listing (or a PI license, for that matter), but he is kept plenty busy by word of mouth. Payment is in cash if Quintabe can get it, though given that his primary clientele pool usually does not include people of means, his compensation is usually “in kind,” if you will.

"Here’s how good Quintabe is: I actually stopped reading 20 pages from the end of the book because I wanted to make it last."

However, as we meet Quintabe, he receives a case drummed up by Dodson, an acquaintance with whom Quintabe has a long and somewhat complicated relationship. The case involves Calvin Wright, aka “Black the Knife,” a popular and wealthy rapper who has been targeted for murder. Quintabe reluctantly takes the case. Wright is a hot mess, and would be even if someone weren’t trying to kill him. He has signed a new multimillion-dollar contract with a label and can’t come up with jack. His major problem, though, is that someone is after him, and he wants Quintable to stop it. There are some likely suspects, and some unlikely ones as well, from his estranged wife to...well, his estranged wife. Quintabe doesn’t go for the easy guess, particularly after meeting Wright and his entourage. By the time that occurs, the reader has already formed an opinion about Quintabe. He isn’t just intelligent; no, he utilizes a combination of street smarts, observation and accumulated knowledge, churns it up with some inductive reasoning, and practices what might be called “design thinking.” Or, to put it another way, he’s sharp as a tack.

The narrative jumps back and forth between the book’s present in July 2013 and several years in the past, so that we see who Quintabe is and just how he got there.  The aforementioned Dodson is part of that story. During both the present and past, Dodson provides some danger here, some comic relief there, and --- to the surprise of all --- actually proves himself useful in a couple of instances. There are elements of symmetry here, a lot of action and some absolutely terrific dialogue. You’ll laugh, you’ll get a little misty-eyed, and you’ll marvel at how true to life every paragraph of every page is, from the edge-of-the-seat beginning to the --- dare I say it? --- heartwarming (without being sappy) conclusion.

I don’t know a lot about Joe Ide, but I do know that he can write and I want to read more about Quintabe very soon. Here’s how good Quintabe is: I actually stopped reading 20 pages from the end of the book because I wanted to make it last. I don’t do that too often. I do know there is a second installment coming, and maybe, just maybe, Quintabe will have the opportunity to address a secondary, but longstanding, mystery that lingers unsolved when the book concludes. Meanwhile, watch for IQ to make all of the “Best of” lists for 2016 and take a slew of awards next year. If you read it, you will know why.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 21, 2016

by Joe Ide

  • Publication Date: September 19, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316267732
  • ISBN-13: 9780316267731