Cover image of "IQ," a novel about a crimesolver

Most readers of detective fiction are well educated and live in comfortable circumstances. So it’s not surprising that most novels about people solving crimes involve well-educated investigators who live in at least middle-class homes. There are many exceptions, of course. George Pelecanos and James Lee Burke come immediately to mind. But it’s genuinely unusual to come across a detective novel that features a poorly educated investigator who solves crimes involving poor people in African-American and Latino neighborhoods. IQ by Joe Ide is such a book, and it’s very well done at that.

This young man is a proven crimesolver

IQ is Isaiah Quintabe. He lives in East Long Beach, California, in a crime-ridden neighborhood where Latino and African-American gangs are often at war. Though he dropped out of high school, he is anything but ignorant. With “near-genius” intelligence, a voracious taste for reading, and an extraordinary ability to apply inductive reasoning to any problem facing him, IQ is a latter-day Sherlock Holmes. He’s “the low-key brother who was so smart people said he was scary.”

IQ (IQ #1) by Joe Ide (2016) 337 pages ★★★★★ 

An unlicensed inner-city crimesolver, IQ devotes himself almost exclusively to investigating crimes, usually for no payment more than a chicken or a plate of food. He supports himself through a series of menial and generally low-skill jobs. Because of an article in a local online hip-hop newsletter, his reputation has spread throughout the region. He receives numerous requests for help on a daily basis, but he takes only those he finds worthy and “where the police could not or would not get involved.”

It was a brutal crime that led IQ to become a crimesolver

The action in IQ takes place in 2005, explaining Isaiah’s backstory, and in 2013, when circumstances force him to take on a case for a wealthy rap star whose life has been threatened. Scenes from each of the two periods alternate throughout the book. Gradually, we learn how Isaiah, still in high school, lost the older brother who had raised him — and then devoted his life to finding the man who’d killed him. Much later, because he’s broke, IQ is drawn into investigating the curious circumstances surrounding the threat to the rap star’s life.

Both the circumstances portrayed in the story, and the methodical way in which Isaiah pursues his investigations, are fascinating. I can only hope that this brilliant crimesolver will reappear in future novels as well.

About the author

The author, Joe Ide, is neither African-American nor Latino. He is, in fact, Japanese-American. As he explained in an interview with Publishers Weekly, “I was a burned-out screenwriter. I had to make a living and writing a book seemed like the logical thing to do. As a kid, my favorite books were the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I was fascinated with the character. Like me, he was an introvert who didn’t fit in, but unlike me, he defeated his enemies and controlled his world, and he did it with only the power of his intelligence. I was a small kid in a big neighborhood, and that idea affected me deeply. When contemplating the book, a Sherlockian character was the only thing that occurred to me. I grew up in South Central L.A., so the inner city was comfortable terrain and Sherlock in the hood was born.”

I’ve reviewed all three of the other IQ mysteries:

You’ll find this and dozens of other excellent novels at 5 top Los Angeles mysteries and thrillers and 10 top novels about private detectives.

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