So, what are the odds? Like Dodgers, the third book nominated for the MWA Edgar for Best First Novel has an inner city, drug dealing-slash-thieving setting. It also is a coming-of-age story, as a young man grows into adulthood. But IQ, Joe Ide’s debut novel, is also funny and jam-packed with a cast of characters that is made for the big screen. It’s a trip in itself, but it also calls out for a sequel. Good news – Entertainment Weekly says Ide now has a four-book deal!
Here’s the deal: teenage Isaiah Quintabe lives with his older brother Marcus. Marcus is smart, focused, gives good advice, and can build anything, repair anything, in fact, do just about anything with his hands. Marcus clearly could have done more with his life, but he’s found his groove, just raising his brother to be a good man, to go to college, to have a future. And it’s working out great, because Isaiah is smart, thoughtful and an all-around good kid. And did I mention he was seriously smart? And so all is well until one day, when Isaiah and Marcus are just walking down the street, a car speeds around the corner and Marcus flies into the air. And just like that, Isaiah is left alone.
Of course, he falls apart. And he also beats himself up. Because he was right there, and saw nothing. Whoever killed Marcus is going to get away with it. So he starts to dig. And as he gets a clue, and spends hours, each day, just sitting and looking for a particular car. And he uses that time to train his observation skills.
Flash forward eight years and Isaiah’s still in the neighborhood, but now in demand as a detective and all-around problem-solver. Juanell Dodson, roommate, former classmate, and all around smartass with pretentions, has hooked him up with Calvin Wright, a rapper and potential murder victim. Between Cal and Dodson, there is plenty of outsize ego and crazy behavior to go around, especially since Cal is having a bit of a crisis. It’s like writer’s block for rappers, and he can’t cure it with pills, booze, or food. Isaiah’s job is to keep Cal alive while he figures out who’s behind the plot. Cui bono? Good question.
This is an amazing debut novel, and Isaiah is a character that demands serialization. In fact, pluck almost any of this rich and funny novel’s characters out for scrutiny: they hold up. The self-absorbed Deronda, who believes she deserves stardom because of the size of her booty. Magnus Westerveld, who created a new self in Skip Hanson, and bred a pit bull the size of a Volkswagen. Dodson, partner and devil. Flaco, Isaiah’s penance in human form, and so much more.
However, characters alone do not make a great detective novel. For that, you need plot. And there is plot in abundance. Inventive, believable, and hair-raising plot; Ide weaves present day and past, accommodating various sub-plots that add complexity and hilarity to great effect. And the end – when Isaiah finds the car that killed his brother? – great set-up for book #2.
Dodgers was heart-tugging and well-worth reading. IQ is that and more. It takes the top spot in the LL Edgar ranking.
Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best First Novel