Here we are doing another Spinal Crack chat already. Lauren and I are shocked it didn’t take us another 1.5 years.
We were motivated by a book we both loved, Joe Ide’s Righteous (out Oct. 17), the follow-up to last year’s IQ, which won Shamus, Macavity, and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel. Righteous was one of our selections for October’s Nerdy Special List, but Lauren and I wanted to delve more deeply into it.
Read on for our thoughts, and find out how you can win copies of both books.
Lauren: I know we are both excited to start this installment of Spinal Crack, but since I’ve given up sugar and other bad (i.e, GOOD) food for two weeks, gimme your master snack menu.
PCN: I have my standbys: chips and salsa and some pepper-jack cheese thingies.
L: Dude. I can’t live vicariously through the same damn snacks every time. Get some variety.
PCN: Lemme see what else I can find…there’s an old pouch of Swedish Fish in my bag! Wait, why did you give up snacks for two weeks? Are you a savage?
L: Because the state of the world wasn’t awful enough as it was. Tell you what will make me feel better. Let’s talk about Joe Ide and Righteous, the second in his glorious IQ series.
PCN: Can we first talk about the pronunciation of his name?
L: Great idea. Why don’t you set our adoring masses straight on the correct pronunciation?
PCN: It’s Jo—
L: And don’t say “Joe.”
PCN: Nuts. So I have to set the record straight because I’m Asian?
L: Yes. It comes in handy on plenty of occasions, of which this is just one. Also, pho ordering.
PCN: His last name is pronounced Eeday. I’ve heard it said like the singular form of ides of March, or rhymes with Heidi, or like ID or Edie. At least they don’t call him Shirley.
L: I had a case with a plaintiff named Ide and she pronounced it “eyedee.” Autocorrect changed that to “eyesore,” which is now Joe’s new and unfortunate nickname.
PCN: That’s his rap name. Now that we have that straightened out, let’s talk about Righteous.
L: As I read Joe’s work, I have a word that hit me over the head repeatedly, so we’ll play word association. When I say “Joe Ide” to you, what word springs to mind?
PCN: Astute observer of human nature, funny AF. I know, #onewordfail.
L: You have a problem with singular and plural, but you’re also correct so you get points. For me, it’s smart. He’s just so damn smart. Smart in his observations and humor and how he gets them across without seeming like a smart ass. Plus, in plotting and character. He’s just smart about everything.
PCN: Definitely smart without being a show-off.
L: Since you’re more succinct than I am, want to do your stellar $.02 plot summary?
PCN: Isaiah Quintabe, aka IQ, and his friend Dodson are looking for a missing woman, but in an earlier timeline, Isaiah is searching for the killer of his beloved older brother, Marcus. In both situations, he encounters people who could kill him as easily as they make readers laugh.
L: One of the things I really enjoy about this series is the different layers of investigation. You’ve got the main case, Marcus’s case, then the cool things IQ does to help those in his community. Each layer informs the characters beautifully.
PCN: I love how fully Joe paints these characters. None of them is perfect or one thing. You could both like and fear a character. Someone could be a stone-cold killer and forgiving, wise and misguided.
L: Yep. That’s where I was going next. Joe details fantastic backstories for many/most of the characters, including villains and henchmen. Not only are they funny, they are full of humanity. It’s never in question who we’re rooting for, but it still serves to make you think about the concepts of what makes someone “good” and/or “bad.” Everyone is shades of both, even IQ.
PCN: And Joe’s able to do all that without bogging down the prose with exposition. He’s precise and selective about which details he includes.
L: Multiple storylines, multiple arcs within the main case, numerous characters, and I never felt like I lost a thread. I will admit he got me on a timeline once. I missed a transition somewhere. But he’s remarkably adept at keeping things woven yet so clean. It’s maddening, really.
PCN: It’s quite a feat, and he makes it look easy, though I’d bet $94 it wasn’t. He probably came up with 37 different descriptions for everything and kept whittling/revising until he had just the right line, the kind that makes you think, “Those 12 words told me all I need to know about this person.” Specificity in details is one of the reasons this book is so winning. Cherise, Dodson’s lover, has a vice principal’s voice, not a principal’s.
L: Yes! One of the notes I took was this one about IQ: “You’d choose him third for pickup basketball.”
PCN: I can only dream of being chosen third for any sport.
L: It’s obvious, and I say this with love, that Joe is, like you, a total pop culture nerd. Sports, music, television, movies, all the references are there, all relevant and fun. And now that you’ve mentioned Cherise, I’ll segue into the fact that the female characters ROCK.
PCN: All the characters are fantastic. What about the science nerds? They’re like Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars.
L: And they become operatives! I hope they show up in later installments. What a goldmine he’s set up there and in the neighborhood in general. I want to jump into their world. If you could meet one of them in real life, who would it be?
PCN: The science nerds, Phaedra and Gilberto. Nerds are my people, obvs. Once again, I don’t know what one means. You?
L: It’s tough, but I think I have to go with IQ’s friend and Dodson’s business partner, Deronda. She is nails. And funny and smart. There’s one scene between Deronda and Janine (the woman IQ and Dodson are trying to find and help) that is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. Deronda has attitude I admire.
PCN: Deronda is a hoot. She’s so vivid. Speaking of Janine, I’m glad she was a DJ and a screw-up. Refreshing not to have an Asian character who’s not an overachiever or a pharmacist. Balthazar, who’s part office building, part orangutan, is another great supporting character. And Ramona. And Gahigi. And Gerald the gangster who looks like an accountant. List goes on and on.
L: I loved Zar’s backstory. There is so much change and growth in this book, historical and otherwise. It gives it so much heart.
PCN: Can we talk about Grace, the woman Isaiah meets in the junkyard? That was one of the sparkiest scenes I’d read in some time, and they barely talked or acknowledged each other!
L: That scene was fantastic, and her silences and lack of reaction made her all the more intriguing. Another strong woman presented in just a few short scenes. She got under our skin, just as she got under Isaiah’s.
PCN: Let’s discuss the dialogue. I didn’t just read the book, I heard it.
L: Which is saying something, since there are characters with such disparate backgrounds. Each voice is unique. It goes back to how well he paints the details. The better you know a character on paper, the better you get them in your head.
I have to mention how Joe handled the Tutsi/Hutu-massacre background of one of the characters. One of the best books I read this year was Scholastique Mukasonga’s Cockroaches, a nonfiction piece about that horror. In so few sentences, Joe gave such import to the gradations of good and bad in one person, and that was just stupendous.
PCN: Absolutely. He also handles the different dialects well. Characters of different ethnicities hurl racist comments at one another but it works because it’s believable they would say stuff like that. Made me think of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
L: Totally works. As it does in the Deronda/Janine scene I talked about earlier. The subject matter of that conversation was totally racist—who are more worthless, Chinese or African Americans?—but you can’t help but laugh because of the tone. So wrong! Yet, life.
PCN: We laugh because the conversations show how ridiculous those stereotypes are.
L: It also just struck me that those conversations had different overtones. Deronda and Janine are women on something of a level playing field, play-sniping at each other. Another was with a man in a position of power. No one is going to say anything to the man in power about his racist comments, but if Deronda or Janine took a wrong step toward each other, it played out differently. Ha, I’m getting deep.
PCN: Glad one of us is.
L: I’ll take it back up to surface-level summary: Joe Ide has become a must-read author for me.
PCN: Same. As in, I don’t need to know what the book’s about just give it to me.
L: OK, it feels like two weeks since we started this chat, so I’m going to go mainline some sugar.
PCN: I’ll send paramedics if I don’t hear from you in 10 days.
Want to win signed copies of both IQ and Righteous? Send a message to Joe Ide on Facebook with proof of a donation to hurricane relief and he’ll enter your name in a drawing. The giveaway ends October 17 so act fast!
CrimeSpree Magazine and Friday Reads are also giving away (unsigned) copies of IQ. Entries are accepted here until October 20. Good luck!