by Joe Ide
Mulholland Books (October 2016)
336 p. ISBN 9780316267724
East Long Beach. The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered. But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.
They call him IQ. He’s a loner and a high school dropout, his unassuming nature disguising a relentless determination and a fierce intelligence. He charges his clients whatever they can afford, which might be a set of tires or a homemade casserole. To get by, he’s forced to take on clients that can pay.
This time, it’s a rap mogul whose life is in danger. As Isaiah investigates, he encounters a vengeful ex-wife, a crew of notorious cutthroats, a monstrous attack dog, and a hit man who even other hit men say is a lunatic. The deeper Isaiah digs, the more far reaching and dangerous the case becomes.
Another step-to-the-left pastiche, this one imagines if Holmes and Watson were young black men in inner city LA. I was curious how it would work, and I’m pleased to say that I couldn’t put the book down. Joe Ide created a truly interesting set of characters. There are subtle nods to canon throughout (my favourite: Harry!), but if someone unfamiliar with Holmesiana were to pick this up, they’d be able to follow along easily.
The story alternates between two timelines. The first is the main mystery, wherein a rap icon (along the lines of Biggie or Ice Cube) who has an album deadline coming up will no longer leave his house, due to a near-death experience with a gigantic houn- er, big dog. Though his entourage is interested in getting him into the studio, the rapper is more interested in staying alive, and so hires Isaiah to find out who is trying to kill him. The second timeline looks at how Isaiah became a detective, and how he met Dodson, our Watson in this tale. Ide does a phenomenal job here for weaving in canon references, while making the relationship between Isaiah and Dodson far more fraught than the relationship between Holmes and Watson ever was.
Both timelines are deeply compelling. The mystery is intriguing, although fairly surface level. Ide focuses more time on us meeting and getting to know all the characters, villains included, than he does in crafting an in-depth mystery. We know who the hitman is early on; the matter of who hired him is wrapped up in an afterward fashion. If you care more about complex mysteries in your Holmesian pastiche, this is certainly a drawback. There’s very little meat here for you to really dig into. However, the character depth makes up for it, in my mind. We get an internal view of the hitman, the rapper, all the members of his entourage, the rapper’s ex-wife… we get to understand everyone as individuals. Even if they’re sometimes distasteful individuals that we hope we never meet in real life.
The second timeline, however, was by far my favourite. I enjoyed seeing Isaiah travel from a somewhat naïve, sweet teenage boy into the world-weary, yet still fighting, man he grew up to be. The introduction of Dodson into his orbit, and just how Dodson impacted him and who he is, was excellent. It is easy to read parts of the second timeline and see, despite the distance of years, just how the two of them still have hooks in each other, even if they wish it were otherwise.
The style of writing is more noir and thriller than your traditional pastiche, an aspect that may disinterest some people. This is no classic or cozy mystery; there is a great deal of language, sex, and violence. The sex and violence are more peripheral, and not at all a focus of the story, but they are still there, which may make some people uncomfortable. However, I felt that those aspects added to the atmosphere of the story, and weren’t gratuitous. I don’t typically like noir, but again, I couldn’t put down this book. The heart of it was very much in keeping with Sherlock Holmes canon.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved how different it was from most reimaginings, while still remaining true to the core of who Holmes and Watson are. Ide clearly loves canon, even as he’s willing to play with it. I am already working on getting my hands on the sequel, which came out just a few months ago.
What About Our Watson?
This is not the first pastiche to reimagine Holmes and Watson as young black men. Probably the most well-known of these is Watson and Holmes, a graphic novel series. Despite a similar opening premise, though, this book is radically different, in part because of their Watson.
Our Watson is a former drug-dealer, former gangbanger, present day entrepreneur. He isn’t a “former” because of any noble reasons—he survived a gang war and saw a new way to make money, and he took it. He’s a bit of a womanizer, and his relationship with Isaiah is… contentious, at best. Isaiah doesn’t really like him half of the time, yet they find themselves drawn together time and again.
Despite these external trappings, Dodson is very much a Watson. A womanizer, yes, but he cherishes the women he’s with and treats them well. A gangbanger he may have been, but he also loves to cook, a skill he was taught by one of his girlfriends. A former drug-dealer, but incredibly brave, and he basically saves Isaiah from himself on multiple occasions. He’s charming, and good with people. He often helps interpret Isaiah for his clients, since Isaiah has no patience for such things. He’s funny, and finds the humor in things, and is incredibly smart himself. And despite his tough exterior and loud bravado, he has a heart of… maybe not gold, but at least of slightly tarnished silver.
Dodson is a meaty character, incredibly complex in that he’s not likeable in one moment, and incredibly so in the next. I am also deeply in love with how the author decided to treat the “Watson always asks Holmes how he did things” issue that arises in more pastiches than one would care to admit; Dodson keeps asking questions to try and get a rise out of Isaiah, to annoy him. It’s a unique take, and it works well. It’s also a remarkably brotherly thing to do; Isaiah and Dodson may not be the best of friends, but they certainly have the brotherly part of the relationship down well.
This isn’t a Watson for everyone, I will freely admit it. But it’s a NEW Watson, and I ended up loving him far more than I thought I would. I admire the author’s courage to try something different with such a beloved character, and for pulling it off.
You Might Like This Book If You Like:
Noir; urban settings; LA; rap music; new interpretations on canon
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