Joe Ide grew up 1960s Los Angeles with two generations of his Japanese family in the East Adams neighborhood. There, he hung out with the local kids, picking up their speech, style and musical tastes.
The characters and cadences of Ide’s childhood — and his self-professed love for Sherlock Holmes mysteries — have found their way into his engrossing crime series and its protagonist, Isaiah Quintabe. Known as IQ, Quintabe is an unlicensed private eye and neighborhood hero whose mission is “fighting human suffering and indifference” wherever he finds it.
Since IQ’s eponymous debut three years ago, his cases have become more complex, the stakes raised for the African American detective and a cast of regular characters who give the series an unexpected warmth and reflect the author’s admiration for Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins.
In “Hi Five,” the fourth book in a series set in East Long Beach, the forces of darkness seem to be winning. One minute, IQ is working pro bono cases to rescue a dognapped Pomeranian from a cowardly gang reject and retrieve his current girlfriend’s priceless 19th century violin stolen by a member of the community’s gangs. Then he’s rocked by news that the stalwart owner of the corner store has been critically injured, collateral damage in a drive-by involving a Cambodian gang and the Starks, their white nationalist rivals. “Isiah hated the term ‘random violence,’” Ide writes, “as if it were an anomaly, worrisome only if you were unlucky, and not a plague on the community that infected everyone with the belief that killings were an ordinary part of life.”
If you’re already a fan of the IQ series, it will not be surprising that the neighborhood cases he tackles connect beyond East Long Beach. If you’re new to the series, the otherwise principled PI’s latest big case may be a head snapper: IQ starts working for Angus Byrne, an ugly, ultraviolent little man who uses the white national gang as his muscle.
Byrne desperately needs IQ’s help in clearing his only daughter, Christiana, before she is arrested for the murder of Byrne’s right-hand man. The man, Tyler Barnes, is shot during a fitting of a custom suit at Christiana’s Newport Beach atelier. But with no witnesses and the young woman seen on surveillance cameras fleeing and returning to the scene, police suspect her of killing Barnes and disposing of the weapon.
IQ find himself in a tough spot. If he doesn’t help with the case, Byrne’s goons threaten to cripple his girlfriend so she can’t perform with the Long Beach Symphony. As if that’s not enough to strain his current relationship, IQ’s former girlfriend, artist Grace Monarova (last seen in 2018’s “Wrecked”), has suddenly returned from New Mexico.
The case becomes more complicated when IQ learns that Christiana isn’t just the prime suspect but also suffers from multiple personality disorder. Her five alter egos — a party girl, preppie and teenaged headbanger among them — saw some part but not all of what happened in Christiana’s studio, so can tell IQ little that points to a definitive killer.
The dearth of suspects forces IQ to widen his investigation to consider a professional hit. The question is: who commissioned it? Was it one of the alter personalities? One of Byrne’s henchman in the Starks? Byrne and his ex-wife, Gia, who serves as both protector and nursemaid to Christiana and her alters, also are on the suspect list.
The presence of five distinct alter egos injects some lighter moments into the story, and “Hi Five” addresses weighty matters for many of the characters as well. IQ and former girlfriend Grace struggle with intimacy and making a commitment to a relationship that has been colored by violence. Series regular TK, the owner of a local wrecking yard, embarks on a prickly romance with a church sister and leader of a book group that discusses, with surprising insight, a Toni Morrison novel. Byrne’s hardscrabble back-story and arms dealing philosophy are illuminated too, as are the stories and motivations of others, including the Starks’ leader, whose background belies his leadership of the gang.
The author is skilled at developing the humanity of every character, regardless of their perspective. It’s a hallmark of Ide’s evolving style that allows “Hi Five” to stand on its own for first-time readers, even as the series deepens longtime fans’ engagement.
Most affecting is the journey of Juanell Dodson, IQ’s ride-or-die sidekick. Unemployed and depressed, Dodson is at loose ends after a series of events that end his partnership with IQ. Further, he’s deeply affected by the shooting of the corner store owner, an East Long Beach neighborhood icon whose shooting causes Dodson to mull over the value of his own life: “A graph of his ups and downs would start in the upper left-hand corner and step jaggedly but steadily down to the lower-right corner and drop right off the page. The problem was — and always had been — direction, an outlet for his uniqueness, a vehicle for his energy.” Dodson’s resentment of, yet yearning for, connection with IQ and fulfilling his destiny as a slickster Watson to IQ’s more cerebral Sherlock is one of the novel’s many ancillary pleasures.
“Hi Five” offers a rich tableau of community stalwarts and criminal riff-raff. But with so many characters and plot points to manage, the novel sometimes lags in it pacing and stumbles over some nuances of geography even as it dares readers to keep up with IQ’s Holmesian inductions. But these are minor quibbles because “High Five” succeeds on so many fronts as it sets IQ and the series’ characters on an uncertain path down darker roads.
Mulholland Books: 341 pages; $27
Woods is an editor, book critic and author of the Charlotte Justice mystery series. She has served for two years as chair of the LA Times Book Prize panel in Mystery/Thriller.