Joe Ide’s IQ: Playing with time and character

Dear Reader,

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review. There’s been several reasons for this.

1.) Who has time to read for fun (sometimes me and sometimes not)

2.) And then who has time to write a review

3.) So many of my friends are writers and what if I don’t like their book? Awkward!

But recently at AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs), a new friend asked me about a book I read and I proceeded to read her my review. I had forgotten why I started writing reviews…

…because they help me remember the book. And it makes me a good writer if I look at prose (and poetry) for craft.

So, here’s me going back to book reviewing! Yay!

For my return, I’ve got a good one for you. Joe Ide’s IQ was a book that was recommended to me. It’s definitely in the mystery/noir genre and oh, boy! I can’t wait to get into this one.

As always, the summary. This time it comes from Brazos Bookstore in Houston, Tx.

A resident of one of LA’s toughest neighborhoods uses his blistering intellect to solve the crimes the LAPD ignores.

East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.

They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.

This time, it’s a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.

Let me start off by saying I’m late to the party. Really late. This book has so many reviews and so many interviews with Ide. And here’s what I know about him so far.

  1. Fan of Sherlock. OG Sherlock from the books.
  2. Japanese American
  3. Came to the writing game late in life. (58 when the book was published)
  4. From Los Angeles.

Also, he writes a pretty mean mystery.

IQ is the first in a series, which is up to the fourth novel. The first book is promising. But focusing on craft, I really want to discuss Ide’s use of flashback in the novel.

There’s several ways to do give character back story. You can do a prologue, a chapter, weave in back story along the way, etc.

How Ide decided to do it was a bit jarring at first. There’s a prologue, of course. It sets up the over arching mystery of the series, who killed Isaiah’s brother and why? But it also sets up the structure of the novel, taking the reader back to Isaiah’s origin story, how he literally became Sherlock-like.

This structure also introduces the sidekick, Isaiah’s friend-enemy/ partner in crime solving dude, Dodson. Each peek into the past is directly paralleled to the case happening in “the present”.

For example, in order for the reader to understand how Isaiah’s brain works in a different pattern than everyone, the story parallels to the time the main character learned about reasoning in school and how to come to conclusions that are out of the box.

Like I said before, this structure was jarring at first, a testament of how much I was used to linear story structure. Of course the reader is singled about time jumps with time markers in the title of the chapters. But after a couple of times it felt awkward.

However, saying this, I don’t think there could be another more elegant way to tell this story which had to accomplish several things

  1. Give background while keeping pacing
  2. Get by in from the reader and feel connected to the main characters
  3. Set the world for the tone being used
  4. Set up the world for a series of books

That is a tall order for a first book and it delivered. I love that Isaiah was from Los Angeles and that this is the backyard that is being played with here. It falls into the tradition of other noir books/series like L.A. Confidential, the Easy Rawlins series, and basically everything from Raymond Chandler. However, what makes IQ different is that this is modern noir with a modern protagonist who is equal parts nerd, justice fighter, and your average person doing extraordinary things.

When it comes to tone and dialogue, Ide’s handy work is a steel blade. It cuts to the heart of the matter masterfully. For me, Isaiah is one of my boys from around the way who reacts like I would or how many of my friends would. By insisting on the authenticity of this tone and voice, the reader is treated to interpretations of a world they may not know – Chinese, Japanese, African American, Hispanic , etc — and see how it all mixes and intertwined like the branches of a very large family tree.

Yeah, I recommend this book without hesitation. I’m hoping you enjoy this as much as I did.

Enjoy the mystery,

~Icess

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