You might think Isaiah Quintabe’s nickname was just a case of convenient initials. He’s a young guy living in a run down part of Long Beach & spends his days trying to make ends meet while he dodges various gangs.
After years of dead end jobs, Isaiah found his calling one night in the laundry room. Over fluffing & folding, a neighbour told him how her daughter’s wedding gifts were stolen. It didn’t sit right with Isaiah & after a few questions & a little snooping, the gifts were returned. The bride was so thrilled, she baked him cookies (her mother warned against actually ingesting them). It was just a favour for a poor family but the mother told 2 people, then they told 2 people…..
IQ is born. Or rather, he’s discovered. Isaiah has always been freakishly smart & his brother Marcus was determined he go to university. Then Marcus died & IQ’s world fell apart. Now he lives alone (with pet chicken Alejandro) & investigates cases the cops won’t touch.
Baked goods are all well & fine but IQ needs work that will pay with some actual cash. It’s not initially clear why but he’s taken over responsibility for a brain damaged teen named Flaco who will soon be released from hospital & rehab is expensive.
So when old friend Dodson calls with a money maker, IQ reluctantly accepts. It seems someone tried to kill Calvin “Black the Knife” Wright, a wealthy rap star living in the area & the weapon of choice was a tad unconventional. But all IQ can see is the means to provide a secure future for Flaco.
And so begins his walk on the wild side, surrounded by Calvin’s hanger-ons, slimy agents & one very creative hit man.
This is a well paced, atmospheric & thinking man’s thriller featuring an original MC. Two stories unfold in alternate chapters. In those from the past we learn about IQ’s childhood with Marcus, his history with Dodson, their part in the “war” & how he ended up with Flaco. In the present we follow him as he tries to figure out who’s got it in for Calvin, a man who never met a pharmaceutical he didn’t like.
There’s a smorgasbord of suspects, a fair number of whom have more in common with weasels than humans. The author does a great job of creating images of neighbourhoods full of crumbling buildings, unemployment, violence & hopelessness.
But everything revolves around IQ. In some ways he’s older than his years because of all he’s been through. But his brilliance & desire for solitude set him apart in a place where you could be killed for wearing the wrong colours. During some scenes I wanted to shake him while in others, he broke my heart. He’s like a modern incarnation of Sherlock Holmes if, you know, Holmes grew up in the hood. And had a pet chicken.
Easily one of the most original & different books I’ve read this year. Hopefully there’s another to follow.