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,


On the podcast: Dr. Trevor Boffone

Dear Reader,

I’m so excited about today’s episode on the Dear Reader Podcast!

My friend Dr. Trevor Boffone is a jack of all trades. He’s currently a Spanish teacher at one of the local high schools in Houston but you may know him from this:

Or maybe you know him from this:

Yup. That’s my friend Trevor with the sick dance moves!

He’s a guest on my show today talking about the guiding word: opportunity. He’ll talk about what it is, what it looked like for him and how to recognize it even dealing with tragedy .

Also on the show I talk about the latest in my writing life and the book at is shaking me to the core right now, “I’m Telling the Truth but I’m Lying” by Bassey Ikpi.

The podcast is available is lots of places now — Google Podcasts, Breaker, Radio Public, and, of course, Spotify.

Dear Goodreads: You’re missing out but I’m here to help.


Dear Goodreads,

Usually I address the readers of this blog. In fact, that’s the name of it, Dear Reader. But for this topic, I’m addressing you because, well, you need some help.

So this week you have proclaimed it Mystery and Thriller Week. YES! We all could use more thrills in our lives. And as a mystery-writer-in-progress (I’ll be a card carrying member of Mystery Writers Association sooner than I can fathom), I was interested in what I should be adding to my ever increasing, bottomless reading list.

And yes, I went through all your lists and even played the “name my mystery novel” game. The Body at the DMV was mine.

But something was missing. I didn’t see very many writers of color on your lists. I’m not sure if there are no authors of color at all because I didn’t click on every single name on your lists, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that maybe there’s one or two.

But I clicked on enough to say…seriously…where are we? Where are the writers of color in these lists? We write mystery books too!

No, this isn’t a let’s blame Goodreads post. Seriously, the genre overall could use some help in this department. It’s a complaint I’ve had since I started reading mysteries when I was young (think Nancy Drew and Boxcar Children Mysteries young). Others have had that same complaint.

So, I will help  because I’ve had to hunt for mystery writers of colors for awhile now. And if you need more names than the ones below, the community has got your back. I’m sure we can come up with more.

Ready for the list? Let’s go!

Walter Mosley


I can NOT start a list about mystery writers of color without Walter Mosley’s name on it. Best known book: Devil in a Blue Dress. Hands down! But the prolific scribe has several mysteries series including Easy Rawlins, Charcoal Joe, and this new one released in February of this year, Down the River Unto the Sea.


Attica Locke

Of course I had to put Houston’s own Attica Locke! Her latest book Bluebird, Bluebird was released in September. It’s a first in a series but not her first mystery book. She’s been writing mystery novels for awhile and her first book Black Water Rising was nominated for an Edgar Award. However, she is best known for writing a t.v. called Empire.

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 10.35.32 PMI mean, they got their plot twists from somewhere.

Lucha Corpi

Personally, she’s not getting enough recognition for her books. Period. Her Chicana detective, Gloria Damasco, is life and when I first read one of her mystery novels it was a breath of fresh air.  A Chicana detective with a “dark gift”? I was in!

I’d start with Eulogy of a Brown Angel. There’s four in her Gloria Damasco mystery series. The final, Death at Solstice, won an International Latino Book Award for best mystery.

Chester Himes

Good Lord, have mercy! Give me a minute while I clutch my pearls!

The first time I read a Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones mystery it snatched all my edges.  That means I figured out that my life without both of these characters was bleak and mundane.  I have since corrected that.

These characters are part of Himes’ Harlem Detective series. Coffin Ed and Grave Digger are police detectives in this ultra noir series.

My first book was The Real Cool Killers, and I heard the audiobook. Considering that these books published in the late 1950s through the late 1960s made them radical for the time as they dealt with issues we’re seeing today in communities of color. I am definitely coming back to this series soon.

Carolina Garcia Aguilera

972916And this is the author who started everything for me. Her Lupe Solano series made me think that one day I could write a mystery novel. This was the first time I saw a character that was in anyway similar to me — a smart Cuban female who dared to make the world her own.

What’s also cool about this author is that she’s a private detective so she could write her novels more accurately. How’s that for dedication?

There are seven books in the Lupe Solano series. If I had to pick a favorite I’d go with Bitter Sugar.

When my own detective, Jennie Manning, comes out, you may see some influences from this author.

Barbara Neely, Franky Y Bailey, and Alexia Gordon

I grouped these three authors together because I am not as familiar with their work. As I was doing research for this post, I came across their books and I am adding them to my to reading list, ironically on Goodreads. Just wanted to mention them in this listing.

Karen Grisby Bates


Of course this name should be familiar. She’s a correspondent for NPR. I hear her often on the podcast CodeSwitch. But when I was doing the research for this post, I realized that I knew who she was in another capacity.

She is the author of the Alex Powell mysteries. In particular of Plain Brown Wrapper. I read this novel when I was an intern in Detroit. I was jonesing for something to read that summer and I picked up this at Borders (y’all remember Borders?).

Turns out that store took a large chunk of my money that summer. East Houston didn’t have a bookstore at the time. Actually, it still really doesn’t. And so when I saw this book and that the investigator is BLACK? AND FEMALE? Yes, I picked it up. I think about this book often and wondered why it didn’t get the attention it deserved.

Chris Abani

IMG_8428Yes, the Chris Abani. Chris Abani wrote a mystery novel. And OF COURSE The Secret History of Las Vegas won an Edgar Award.

Of course.

Yes, that’s my picture to the left and NO, I haven’t read it yet. So I can’t give a recommendation but, if he did with mysteries what he does with fiction or poetry, then this will be a great read…once I get to it on my list.

It’s a crazy list, guys.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

El Maestro Gabo wrote may things in his life but one of my favorite is actually a mystery novel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It’s not a who-done-it but a how-done-it.  It’s one of my favorites of his novellas. Worth picking up. It’s a quick read too.

Rudolfo Anaya

Another Chicano writer! Anaya is known for Bless Mi Ultima, which isn’t a mystery 341971novel. That’s important to know because after what would be his best know and seminal work, Anaya turned his pen to writing mysteries and let me tell you I’m so glad he did.

There are four novels in his Sonny Becca series. The one I read and loved the most was Rio Grande Fall. Why? I fell in love with the opening paragraph:

“Sonny felt the soft pressure of the eagle feather across his chest. The soft voice from the healer was calling him back from his vision. He smelled the sweet aroma of the burning copal in the room, and he struggled to rise out of the dark shadows where he had be running with a family of coyotes.”

I mean…come on! I was here for it after that paragraph. This was your lead investigator in a mystery novel. Done and done. I wanted more after that.


Here here you go, Goodreads! A full dozen mystery writers of color. There are more but I wanted to give a good round number.  There are more out there!

I love Goodreads and I don’t dare make a book purchase without consulting it first. And although there aren’t many writers of color in the genre, we exist and our books are every bit as thrilling.

Yes, you did happen to notice that I used the word we. One day I’ll join my fellow rebel rousers on the list. In fact, I’ll have a project coming out soon where I’ll be anthologized with other writer’s of color playing with the noir genre. I hope by the time my novel does come out and that my detective Jennie Manning makes her debut, that we’re welcomed during that year’s Mystery and Thriller week.


Happy reading,






Death or a reclaiming: Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead


Dear Reader,

It’s National Poetry Month! This is an awesome month when we can read poetry, appreciate it, and learn from it.

Well, actually, every month is poetry month in my world.

So, I was actually reading two collection before poetry month and just finished one them in time for the celebrations. Danez Smith’s collection, “Don’t Call Us Dead” is unapologetically existing on bookshelves challenging what poetry is, what being black in America is and has become, and what being a gay, black man means — both the glory and the tragedy.

Frankly, when I was done reading this collection, I felt like I was sucker-punched into creating art. But I digress… here’s the summary thanks to the fine folks at Amazon.

Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality—the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood—and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America—“Dear White America”—where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.

The metaphor of death — sometimes literal–is weaved all through this collection. There is  death in places that are sweet and nostalgic. For example, in the poem summer, somewhere some of the lines beat like an exposed nerve.

“history is what it is. it know what it did./bad dog/ bad blood. bad day to be a boy/color of a July well spent. but here, not earth, /not heaven, we can’t recall our white shirts turned ruby gowns.”

The poem continues into the collection’s title.

“if snow fell, it’d fall black. please, don’t call/us dead, call us alive someplace better.”

The images here between heaven and death are visceral–the white of snow turning black, the darkness of a sort of purity or the pieces of black that fall from the perviously fallen. The ruby of gowns, stained from white. Black and red and white all interlocked into a vicious circle. From white comes red and the falling of black, previous historical sins coming to reclaim the earth, even if for a moment. But the death in this case means “alive someplace better.” So it is really death or a reclaiming?

These lines have much to unpack. Smith does this often and it’s easy to read over the mastery of what is on the page.  This is most true when Smith writes about being gay and black, a taboo. Smith plays with the idea of purity not only visually but with allusion as well.

In 1 in 2, Smith starts the poem with a CDC report about HIV and the statistics for black men. The news of the disease was as devastating as the statistic.

“you went in for /a routine test and they told you what you were made of:/-honey spoiled into mead/-lemon mold/-broken proofs/-traffic tickets/-unindentified shard/-a shy, red moon/-a book of antonyms/-the book of job/-a lost child unaware of its name/you knew it would come to this, but then it actually came.”

The order of the list here is telling; it starts with something sweet and ordinarily pure like honey and it’s turned counterpart – mead. Moldy lemon is next, with the item turning from bright, optimistic yellow to a dark moldy, shriveled thing. The list continues through various “sins” like traffic tickets and the outcomes of battles like “unidentified shard”. The reader finally lands on the allusion, the Book of Job, the most poetic book in the Bible, a work of purity in some circles. The theme of Job is divine justice and asks why do the righteous of  humanity suffer. And so again he plays with purity — everything was great until it wasn’t.  I was fine and okay and without fault until the news came, and now I am to suffer.

Smith, in just these lines asks “why” but alas it’s been answered with statistic, “1 in 2 “black men who have sex with men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.”

And again, is this a death or a reclaiming?

There was so much in this book that I eventually stopped highlighting passages and defaulted highlighting titles to entire poems. Seriously guys, this collection is a much welcomed kick in the head for any poet and reader. This is one collection I will be returning to if only to unlock further mysteries.

My favorite poem is “dream where every black person is standing by the ocean”. While it’s the final one in this heavy collection, Smith manages to uplift and give hope. But I won’t steal Smith’s thunder. You can read it here. 


Read on,


Slow, quiet – Haruki Murakami’s ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage


Dear Reader,

It’s been weeks since I’ve read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. It took that long to digest it completely.

In fact, this book took me two tries. I tried reading this in 2015 but wasn’t ready. Glad I was ready now.

See, this was a quiet book. It doesn’t announce its theme or its message with a bullhorn but with a whisper. In actuality, this book is a test of how well you listen when art speaks.

But before we get to my review, here’s a summary of the book from Amazon:


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel—a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan—from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.



So let’s get into it.  This is a novel about pain and how to come back from it. As the novel begins, Tsukuru Tazaki, in his 30s and a professional living in Tokyo, is a shell of a person. You can already tell by the first line:

“From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.”

The first line promises darkness and sorrow. However, the book isn’t about darkness in the way a reader would expect. And while there is some darkness, it is not oppressive, it is still and quiet.

The reason for Tsukuru’s ennui comes from a lie (a betrayal) told among childhood friends. Tsukuru is accused of a heinous act against another friend, told before he returns to his hometown for a visit. It’s not until later in the novel that the reader learns that none of the friends believed the untrue accusation but cut Tsukuru out of their lives anyway.

This lie derails Tsukuru’s life, devastates him to the point of wanting to die. But he doesn’t and instead changes, physical and mental changes and he “moves on” with his life.

It isn’t until he’s faced with the possibility of love, or at least a form of it, that Tsukuru is asked to confront the ghosts have his past and return to his hometown to figure out what happens. As Tsukuru takes the reader on his pilgrimage, we begin to see the metaphors of travel and movement — Tsukuru is a train station engineer, his “girlfriend” arranges travel (in addition to encouraging the confrontations), and his aquantiances move on from their relationships with him. Even the mentions of music are a metaphor for movement.

One of his friends plays “Le mal du pays” is one of three suits from Years of Pilgrimage by composer Franz Liszt. The song is mentioned several times, including the well-worn copy that Tsukuru plays over and over again.

Le mal du pays means homesickness. And the song (if you haven’t heard it, the video is above) feels like yearning and a search for something concrete, a human connection.

It’s revealed in flashbacks of Tsukuru’s childhood friendships that each of their names has a connection to a color, except for his. They called him colorless and so the reader is lead to believe that he was always the odd man out of his social circle.

Indeed, Murakami continues his metaphor between connection to music/harmonies.

“One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.”

And so this novel moves like a musical composition, complete with repetition, crescendos and decrescendos in the plot,  haunting notes (in the form of details and characterization) and in a melody, Tsukuru’s ennui which resolves much like a classical song, the final measure lingering over the air asking to be remembered long after its gone.

This isn’t a book that unravels itself easily. In fact, there were times that I was frustrated with it but something told me, pulled me, to keep reading knowing there would be a pay off. And there was. By the time I was done with the final sentence of the book, I was surprised at how it sneaked up on me; I loved the book and didn’t know how much I did until it was over.

Tokyo, Japan where a good portion of the novel takes place.

When a friend asked me to describe this book, I used the word quiet. I kept expecting a blow up by Tsukuru, most especially from the people he cared most about cutting ties with him. I wanted the blow up, the explosion but this isn’t that time of book.

This isn’t my first book from a Japanese author. In grad school, I read Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata and it was so beautiful and still, quiet like Murakami’s book. And I know from experience that a quiet book can have tension and this book had it. That means lots of work went into making it quiet and still filled with tension. It’s easy to write an explosive scene but a quiet scene doesn’t mean passive, it means that things such as metaphor and symbols do much of the heavy lifting. And if that’s the case, it can be a gamble for the writer as it requires trust that the reader is invested enough to unwind the layers of meanings.

For this read, I can’t recommend this book to everyone. This book is for the thinking person, the reader who likes a good mysterious prose and considers themselves a literary detective. It’s worth the work.

On to the next read,