Quick Review: SMOKE by Joe Ide (Mulholland/W&N)

IdeJ-IQ5-SmokeUSIsaiah Quintabe & Co. return, with more personal challenges and some sinister characters circling their lives…

Both Isaiah Quintabe – an unlicensed detective for all seasons – and his best friend and masterful sidekick, Juanell Dodson, are at a crossroads. This time, their lives may never be the same.

Isaiah is no longer IQ, the genius of East Long Beach; instead he’s a man on the road and on the run, hiding in a small Northern California town when his room is broken into by a desperate young man on the trail of the state’s most prolific serial killer.

Dodson must go straight or lose his wife and child. His devil’s bargain is an internship at an LA advertising agency, where it turns out the rules of the street have simply been dressed in business casual, but where the aging company’s fortunes may well rest on their ability to attract a younger demographic. Dodson – “the hustler’s hustler” – just may be the right man for the job.

Isaiah Quintabe returns! Smoke is the fifth novel in the series, and sees our protagonist and his growing supporting cast going through a number of changes and overcoming a series of challenges. A slightly different novel to the previous books in the series, I enjoyed it.

Note: Given that this is the fifth novel in a series that is, effectively, a single story, there are unavoidable spoilers in this review.

Following the events in Hi-Five (not to mention the other novels in the series) Isaiah is having a bit of a bad time of things. He’s suffering from PTSD, wanted by seemingly all of the various gangs operating in Long Beach, and struggling to stay focused and centred. He’s left the city, in an attempt to find peace. He’s left behind his two rocks: Grace, his girlfriend; and Dodson, his best friend and sometime partner. He’s fed up with the way he keeps finding himself in dangerous situations, threatening his own life and that of his loved ones. He manages to find some quiet and space to think, but it doesn’t last. It turns out, there might be a serial killer operating in the region… And, of course, IQ somehow finds himself involved in an investigation — dodging suspicious law enforcement, biker gangs, and his strong desire to stop getting himself in these situations.

One of the most interesting things about Ide’s series is that, as it has progressed, it has become far less focused on the titular protagonist. I’ve mentioned in my reviews for the previous two novels, that I was surprised at how Isaiah was taking up less and less space in the books. He’s still important, of course, but the author has been giving his supporting cast a lot more time in the novels. At first, this felt a little bit strange, but because his characters are so well drawn, I enjoy this development a lot. I’m particularly interested in Dodson and his ongoing struggles to balance his personality and how he understands his situation, with what others think is possible for him and his responsibilities as a father and partner.

Smoke is an interesting novel. I enjoyed reading it, and Ide’s writing remains engaging and colourful. There’s the now-familiar humour, and the less-than-polished action — his characters are not James Bond: they get beaten and knocked down, they make mistakes (sometimes many of them), and the various cases IQ’s been involved in aren’t always wrapped up neatly or tidily.

In this book, Isaiah’s “case” feels more secondary to the emotional and everyday drama that his characters are dealing with — in addition to Dodson, Deronda features more centrally. I enjoyed this change, because I tend to be less interested in serial killer narratives. I’ve also noticed that IQ’s approach to cases has shifted over the course of the series. In part, that’s because the stories have involved larger and more complicated plots — they’re not always conducive to the Sherlock Holmes-type deduction the early novels (not to mention the publicity materials) leaned on. I miss this, because it was really well done in the first novel. Hopefully we’ll get a bit more of this in the next book.

If you’re looking for an interesting crime series with a difference, then I would certainly recommend Ide’s IQ novels. They’re well-written, and offer interesting twists on many popular genre tropes and conventions.


Joe Ide’s Smoke is due to be published on February 23rd, 2021, by Mulholland Books (North America) and Weidenfeld & Nicolson (UK).

Also on CR: Reviews of IQRighteous, Wrecked, and Hi-Five

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received via NetGalley

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