Still smokin'
Joe Ide's IQ series' counterculture superhero picks up where he left off in Smoke

Still smokin'
Jeffrey Mannix - 03/04/2021

Joe Ide (EE-day) may just be the luckiest person who ever put pencil to paper with the hope of becoming an author someday – a pursuit bizarrely shared by more people in the U.S. than any other recreational activity. 

Ide was 58 years old when, out of frustration from teaching school (turns out he didn’t like kids) and cranking out going-nowhere screen plays, he threw the dice one last time in 2016 and walked away from the table rich and famous. His first attempt at long-form fiction, three years in the making, produced IQ, a book about a young black man, Isaiah Quintabe, in South Central Los Angeles (East Long Beach). Isaiah swam against the riptide of drugs, gangs and guns to help people in the hood who couldn’t afford to call the cops, hire a lawyer or risk an eye for an eye in a guerrilla theater carved up by quotidian urban warfare.

Joe Ide is a journeyman writer and a superb storyteller, a combination that portends to clang the gong, which he made resound with IQ. In 2017, he collected nominations for every literary award offered to crime fiction, winning the prestigious Anthony, Macavity and Shamus awards. Ide has since moved from South Central L.A. to Santa Monica and written three IQ sequels that staggered along until he came up with this February 2021 release, Smoke. And Ide is back to telling a brilliant story with his Elmore Leonard-like playful dialogue and the humor in the posturing denizens of the hood.

Coming of age in the ’60s and ’70s in South Central L.A. in an Asian-American family made Ide a cultural outlier to the mainly Black and Hispanic community, which permeated his structured life at home. He read books, was devoted to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and studied the behavior and hip language of the streets through Holmes’ eye for detail. It took a long time and some dismal career experiences before Ide found the courage along with a touch of midlife depression to do what he wanted to do – to write a book about life in the hood through his countercultural superman, Isaiah Quintabe.

Although Smoke still features Isaiah, it differs from Ide’s previous meanderings. With Isaiah on the run after meddling in the corrupt affairs of criminal elements higher and more poisonous on the food chain than the usual hood goons, the starring role turns over to his sidekick of the four previous IQ dramas, Juanell Dodson. Juanell may be the most fully formed and fascinating character in Ide’s fully formed and fascinating stories. In Smoke, Ide puts the big light on this uneducated, larcenous, funny, tough guy. He delivers an Academy Award performance in his attempt to mollify his wife, Cherise, by cleaning up, buying a suit and getting a job in the mailroom of an advertising agency. There, his arrogance enables the creation of breathtaking ads for a worn-out account executive who is promoted instead of being fired.

Isaiah left behind his girlfriend, his dog, Juanell, and the people in the hood in order to avoid what his meddling in gangsters’ villainy was sure to eventually bring. And while Ide was smart to send Isaiah offstage in most of the scenes, his disappearance is as clever as his heroics of past books. We see him peeking from behind the backdrop, poised and resourceful as ever, just waiting for the right time to rescue his mates or surrender to the inevitable.

Smoke is a rollicking fun read packed with nuance and imaginativeness that comes from a guy who had nothing to lose when he wrote IQ and now has nothing but fun creating quirky people in situations so uncompromising they’re funny. Quintabe and his repertory company of guttersnipes make for some of the most refreshing crime fiction in the genre, and Smoke is a good place to begin reading Joe Ide. Then you’ll want to go to the March 2, 2017 “Murder Ink” archives to read my review of Ide’s first book, IQ, which you’ll be quick to buy. And don’t forget to ask Maria’s Bookshop for your “Murder Ink” 15 percent discount. n

 

Top Shelf

Festivating in a brave new world
Festivating in a brave new world
By Chris Aaland
06/17/2021

Outdoor music festival season in SWCO returns – to varying degrees
 

Hitting rewind
Hitting rewind
By Chris Aaland
05/13/2021

Stillhouse Junkies’ Cody Tinnin releases solo record on … cassette (don't worry there's a downloadable version, too.)

A leap of faith
A leap of faith
By Chris Aaland
05/06/2021

Festival season kicks off in SWCO for better or worse

How deep is your love?
How deep is your love?
By Chris Aaland
02/11/2021

Philadelphia freedom, Brothers Gibb & pirates on the mic

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Bottoms up!
Bottoms up!
By Stephen Eginoire
05/27/2021

With this year's runoff more like a slow bleed, it is easy to let one's whitewater guard down. But remember: flips and swims can happen any place at any time. 
 

Cold comfort
Cold comfort
12/17/2020

Seeking solstice solace in the dog days of winter

A Grand escape
A Grand escape
By Stephen Eginoire
11/19/2020

Pandemic fatigue? Forget the world with three weeks on the Colorado

The living museum
The living museum
By Stephen Eginoire
10/15/2020
Read All in Day on the Life