Righteous by Joe Ide
Isaiah Quintabe, known as IQ to his friends, is a highly intelligent young black man who has carved out a career for himself as a private investigator in East Long Beach, Los Angeles. He leads a frugal life. Although he has many paying customers due to his high success rate, IQ also does work for those who can’t afford to pay. As a result, he often receives cakes and even chickens as remuneration for services rendered, much to the amusement and admiration of the local community.
Isaiah’s social circle is so small as to be virtually non-existent. His big brother, Marcus, was killed in a hit and run when IQ was just a teenager and now, ten years later, the socialist detective is still investigating the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death. IQ becomes convinced that Marcus was specifically targeted and therefore murdered. But how to prove it?
Into this picture steps Sarita, Marcus’s girlfriend at the time of his death. She was also his one great love. Sarita’s sister, Janine, has managed to get herself into some very serious trouble in Las Vegas, and IQ is approached to try to pull her out of it. Eager to impress his brother’s girl, IQ readily agrees before he fully realizes what he has gotten himself into. It turns out that the father of both Janine and Sarita is a senior member of a Chinese Triad gang that operates brothels cross the US. Janine’s hapless boyfriend, Benny, has foolishly stolen some compromising data from them and is trying to blackmail the Triads. It’s sure to end in disaster.
Meanwhile, IQ encounters Seb, the Rwandan gangster who launders money for Manzo, head of Surenos Loco 13, an LA gang of bad asses. Seb’s name is found on a piece of paper that had been in Marcus’ possessions, but the cagey Rwandan denies knowing IQ’s brother. Another problem for Isaiah is that Manzo’s protégé, Ramona, a sixteen year old gangbanger, badly wants IQ dead for personal reasons. It’s only Manzo who keeps her from going on the warpath. But can Manzo continue to keep Ramona on her straining leash? Life is not simple for our young hero.
In Vegas, Janine and Benny have also run foul of a wacky moneylender called Leo, who has a giant enforcer named Balthazar in his employ. Leo has his rep to consider, and Benny and Janine owe him quite a bit of cash. When Leo tries to collect, he finds himself in conflict with Chinese gangsters and black dudes from LA. IQ and his friend, Dodson, have arrived at last! It all gets very confusing for Leo, and the Triads, and IQ and Dodson, but thankfully not for the reader.
The Chinese prove to be a determined lot, and abduct both Benny and Janine’s father to try to buy time as they hunt Janine. IQ is really up to his eyeballs in it and is severely distracted from finding Marcus’ killer. It all makes for a wacky caper with an original and engaging cast.
Righteous is a very good read. Rebel Voice enjoys those stories that are different. Too many novels are generic. The lead protagonists can be formulaic. The settings are clichéd. The plot is predictable. Righteous is none of those things. The author, Joe Ide, is a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan and it shows in this book. The tale weaves from LA to Las Vega as IQ’s home life and his investigations clash. There is a veritable smorgasbord of characters who remain in the memory long after the story has ended. IQ himself is a likeable personality with depth. The dynamic between him and Dodson is intriguing. The peripherals are also of much interest.
There are few novels where you will find one-legged survivors of Rwandan genocide, LA gangbangers and Chinese Triads all together. This is that type of novel, where diverse characters blend seamlessly in a rollicking good read.
It’s not without its faults though. The story jumps from the past to the present and back again without any indicators in the chapter headings. This can be slightly disconcerting as it requires a few passages to be read before the change in chronology becomes apparent. There is also a moralistic side to IQ that doesn’t quite ring true for Rebel Voice. He can be a tad Jessica Fletcher at times.
However, none of this is sufficient to deter the reader from enjoying Righteous. It’s a What’s Eating Gilbert Grape meets A Study In Scarlet kind of book, with a healthy dollop of Kalifornia thrown in. It is also the second in a series, so could be a good place to jump on board.
Sult scale rating: 7.5 out of 10. A novel with a charismatic lead who will make you want to get to know him a little better. Righteous is one of a kind in a series of a similar kind, and worth the effort to find and read.