Book Review: IQ

Spoilers ahead!

Given how influenced this book is by Tupac and hip hop more broadly, this feels like an appropriate song to listen to while you read my review of the book.

Incidentally, I follow up one debut novel with another and from the same year, Joe Ide’s 2016 novel, IQ. This is going to sound odd when I get to the punchline, but I’ve always been interested in Sherlockian stories; one of my favorite shows in my teens was The Mentalist based on the idea of inductive reasoning to solve crimes, for example, or in the book realm, I love Jeffery Deaver’s books. I dig unraveling a case and seeing if I can “solve it” before the author gives us the answer. But the punchline? I’ve never actually read a Sherlock Holmes book! One of these days …

My copy of the book.

Nonetheless, Ide takes his inspiration from Holmes with his protagonist, Isaiah Quintabe, aka IQ. He’s a genius level black man from East Long Beach, California, who is as empathetic as he is genius, although he didn’t always start out that way, per se. His parents died when he was seven, so his brother, Marcus, raised him, teaching him life lessons and essentially, how to be a member of a community. Unfortunately, his brother also died — in front of IQ, no less — when a unknown person in a vehicle ran him over in a hit-and-run.

In his grief, IQ turns to Dodson, a local gang member, to take up residence at his brother’s apartment to help split the rent. Dodson quickly learns of IQ’s … IQ, and leverages that into stealing from local shops not traditionally broken into, like Pet Shops and hair salons. They sell the products on eBay to get a payout. Eventually, all of that leads to Dodson making the deleterious decision to leave the gang for greener, safer pastures. But in so doing, he sets off a war between his gang and a rival Mexican gang that results in a lot of dead bodies, including bystanders, like Flaco, whose parents were killed and he was paralyzed.

To make amends for his conscious and his community — because he doesn’t think he’s blameless in what happened because none of it would have happened if they didn’t start being greedy thieves, he reasons — IQ becomes what Marcus was to him for Flaco, and then a Sherlockian detective solving cases in the community the police don’t have time for, or more likely, concern for solving

The overall story, the “whodunit,” is trying to figure out who hired a hitman, Skip, with a massive killer dog aptly named Goliath, to kill Cal, a famous rap artist. Was it his ex-wife? His righthand man, who is also sleeping with the ex-wife? The two colossal bodyguards who used to be part of a rap group with Cal, who are jealous of his success? Or maybe it’s the record producer who wants Cal to produce another record?

Honestly, my guess was Dodson because throughout the book, we see that Dodson is trying to “stump” IQ with his questions about the case. My brain went to: Oh, so he orchestrated all of this, not because he cared about killing Cal, but because he wanted to see if he could finally “humble” — in his view — IQ.

Turns out, it was Bobby, the producer, because it was a red herring that he wanted him to finish a record. Instead, he thought he’d have a better shot of making money for years after Cal’s murder following the Tupac Shakur model: using his unreleased songs to make more records, capitalizing on fans’ renewed love after his untimely passing.

And unlike my cynical view of Dodson, at the end of the book, he also makes amends for his mistakes, as far as it goes, by helping IQ and with Flaco. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, he also is the one who solves the key part of the case, realizing Bobby’s Tupac plan. So, he did “humble” IQ after all.

I have to admit, it took some getting used to Ide’s book because of the dialogue and the descriptions (particularly of women) coming from a Japanese American about black characters. Sorry, I couldn’t help but think about how amusing it was. Still, once I did, I quite enjoyed IQ and IQ. He’s a great protagonist, and I like how he approaches cases: that inductive reasoning, just paying attention to the little details, and not being phased by all the noise. Also, it was interesting how Ide detailed his “origin story,” both from the standpoint of Marcus being his inspiration, and his literal origin story in terms of how he did a hodgepodge of jobs after cleaning up his act, and through those, he gained skills that would be useful as a private detective, like fighting and driving.

The main thing is, it’s tough. You can see how people fall into the life Dodson did early on as a gangster, or why IQ chose to leverage his brain to be a thief early on in his life. Conversely, Ide goes pretty deep into Cal’s life and thinking, as well his ex-wife’s, and you can also see how unglamorous the famous millionaire hip hop lifestyle can be, if you lose yourself within it. Nobody would read this book and think, “The gangster life seems awesome!” or that letting fame and money go to your head is ideal.

Overall, if you also enjoy Sherlockian protagonists and stories, with a bit of a setting and character twist, then I think you will appreciate this one. I’m not sure it was strong enough to make me immediately go out and get the sequel, but eventually I will because it deals with the person who killed IQ’s brother in the hit-and-run, and I want to see IQ take on that challenge.

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