Written by Joe Ide, narrated by Sullivan Jones — Japanese-American author Joe Ide grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and it’s obvious he kept his ears open. He has a remarkable ability to capture the cadence, vocabulary, put-downs, and jiving of the mostly African-American characters in his debut novel IQ. Sullivan Jones’s stellar narration of the audio version does Ide’s rich dialog justice.
Growing up, Ide’s favorite books were Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and in his book’s protagonist, Isaiah Quintabe, he’s created a new kind of Holmes in an unlikely urban California setting, East Long Beach. Seventeen-year-old Isaiah’s nickname is IQ, and it doesn’t just refer to his initials. Early on, he was tagged as an academic star. In Mrs Washington’s geometry class (a 10th-grade subject Isaiah took in the eighth grade), he learned about inductive reasoning.
She was a tough teacher. She chided a student, “Your grade on that last test was so low I had to write it on the bottom of my shoe.”
But what she imparted to Isaiah was the way to take observations to conclusions, and how, when you do not have all the facts, you can be led astray. More than a tool for mathematics, analytical thinking becomes a way for Isaiah to be in the world.
The teen lives with his older brother and legal guardian Marcus, the only family member he knows. He idolises Marcus, who badgers Isaiah to excel. When Marcus is killed in a hit-and-run accident right in front of him, Isaiah is so bereft he drops out of high school. Although he’s underage, he’s determined to keep Marcus’s apartment, in some sense to keep Marcus close, as well as to avoid the foster care system.
The low-level jobs he can snag aren’t bringing in the income he needs, though, and he takes in a roommate – the irrepressible, dope-dealing, trash-talking, rap-music-loving Juanell Dodson, who is soon joined by his girlfriend Deronda. If you’re easily put off by four-letter words or black folks calling each other ‘nigga’, this is probably not the book for you, though the language is absolutely true to the characters.
Isaiah and Dodson get themselves some cash by executing a number of meticulously planned (by Isaiah) nighttime robberies of unlikely target. The first is a pet store. Even a pet store has high-priced merchandise if you look hard enough. Isaiah’s analyses of these and many other matters, as he explains them to Dodson, are pure pleasure to read, with Dodson ever frustrated he can’t outwit his friend.
Dodson comes to him with a proposal for a high-profile gig that’s fallen into his lap: to figure out who’s behind an strange attack on a leading rap star. They watch a security video of the night when the rapper is alone in his mansion, when a huge and superbly trained attack dog bursts through the doggie door. There’s a big payday forthcoming if Isaiah can figure out who carried out the attempted hit and who is behind it. The answer to the former question turns out to be susceptible to logic, while the answer to the latter proves more elusive.
Dodson is a bundle of barely controlled emotions, but Isaiah maintains his calm demeanor, whether he’s dealing with the star rapper and his entourage, the bad guys, the neighborhood lady whose daughter’s wedding presents were stolen, the former auto-racing owner of TK’s Wrecking Yard who teaches him to really drive, or the high-maintenance Dodson and Deronda.
Isaiah’s old dead-end jobs turn out to have been useful for a man who soaks up information like blotting paper, needs those driving skills, and is a genius at anticipating how situations will play out. Isaiah Quintabe returns in the next IQ novel due out in February, entitled Righteous. Mrs Washington would be proud.
Narrator Sullivan Jones is a California-based actor who brings a gift for humour and a lively understanding of the characters in this novel that makes his reading both perceptive and entertaining. An excellent choice for audio.
For some old school LA try Raymond Chandler or Walter Mosley. Michael Connelly’s latest, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, is set there too, but for the new generation of authors writing about LA read Lola, A Better Good-bye or Dodgers.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars