Joe Ide’s new mys­tery novel is a hit


Joe Ide was 58 when he pub­lished his first novel, “IQ,” two years ago. Be­fore that, he’d been a school­teacher and a screen­writer. Be­ing a nov­el­ist suits him well. “IQ” won the An­thony, Ma­cav­ity and Shamus awards for out­stand­ing crime-fic­tion de­but.

Ide is a Ja­panese Amer­i­can who grew up in an African Amer­i­can sec­tion of South Cen­tral Los An­ge­les. He has said this ex­pe­ri­ence helped him cre­ate his main char­ac­ter, Isa­iah Quintabe (IQ), a young black man who, after an in­ter­lude of youth­ful crime, be­came a pri­vate de­tec­tive.

In “Wrecked,” the third in­stall­ment of the IQ se­ries, Quintabe is back, slowly build­ing his busi­ness in Long Beach, Calif., when a young woman named Grace asks his help in find­ing her mother, whom she hasn’t seen for ten years. Grace is a pen­ni­less artist who can’t pay him, but Isa­iah likes her too much to refuse her, even after he learns that her mother, Sarah, is in deep trou­ble with a group of ex-mil­i­tary men, led by Stan Wal­czak, the founder of a global se­cu­rity firm.

Sarah and Wal­czak were once lovers. Sarah has in­crim­i­nat­ing ev­i­dence from Abu Ghraib that proves that he and his col­leagues tor­tured pris­on­ers there. She’s de­manded $1 mil­lion for it. Wal­czak could pay her but would rather kill her. He sum­mons four ruth­less cronies from Abu Ghraib to do just that.

Isa­iah takes the case and falls for Grace, al­though he’s never had a white girl­friend and fears re­jec­tion. As it turns out, Grace is un­con­cerned about race — she likes IQ a lot — but she’s wary of in­volve­ment and wants only to find her mother. None­the­less, their grow­ing at­trac­tion in­spires a touch­ing por­trait of love and its dis­con­tents.

Grace’s life has not been easy. In a flash­back, we see her at age 15 when she was sent to live with foster par­ents. There was a lech­er­ous foster fa­ther who wouldn’t leave her alone. One day, when his wife was away, he told the girl he had $5,000 in cash and that they could run off to San Fran­cisco and have some fun. In­stead, Grace threat­ens to call the po­lice and de­nounce him as a pe­dophile. Soon she goes forth to make her way in the world with that $5,000.

Isa­iah’s love is sorely tested when he’s cap­tured by Wal­czak’s gang and tor­tured. He won’t talk, even dur­ing abuse and pain that are ag­o­niz­ing to read. In a more en­joy­able episode, writ­ten with equal skill, Ide has Wal­czak and his thugs pur­sue Isa­iah and Grace through the Burn­ing Man ex­trav­a­ganza in the Ari­zona desert.

Ide de­lights in in­ject­ing mo­ments of hu­mor into his tale. Isa­iah’s friend Dod­son, hav­ing sur­vived a life of crime, is cursed with the mother-in-law from hell: “You were a use­less bum be­fore and now you’re a use­less bum with a bul­let hole in you.” A woman looks around a bar and de­clares she’s “seen bet­ter faces in a fish tank.”

If I had any com­plaint about “Wrecked,” it was that its abun­dance of char­ac­ters and sub­plots some­times felt like too much of a good thing. But I came to ac­cept Ide’s ex­cesses as the re­sult of his am­bi­tion, his urge to share all that he has seen and felt and known.

WRECKED: An IQ Novel By Joe Ide Mul­hol­land. 343 pp. $27

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