My Favorite 2017 New (to me) Characters

A few weeks ago, I started to describe someone as one of the best characters I met this year. Which got me to thinking about and honing this list. I’m limiting myself to characters I met this year, otherwise I don’t think there’s be much room for anyone — Spenser, Hawk, Scout, Harry Dresden, Toby Daye, Ford Prefect etc. wouldn’t really allow anyone else to be talked about. These might not be my favorite people in their respective books (although most are), but they’re the best characters in terms of complexity, depth and story potential I doubt I’d like most of them in real life (and can’t imagine that any of them would enjoy me), but in novels? I can’t get enough of them.

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Aimee de Laurent from Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my post about the book)– she’s smart, she’s driven, she’s compassionate, she’s powerful, she’s fallible. She also flies around in a spaceship and does magic.
  • Lori Anderson from Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my post about the book)– She’s more than Stephanie Plum without the Lucy Ricardo DNA. She’s a tough lady, a dedicated mom, and more. This bounty hunter will impress you with her guts, get your sympathy with her plight, and make you cheer as she bests her opponents (I should probably add “make you wince as she takes some brutal beatings).
  • Ali Dalglish from In the Still by Jacqueline Chadwick (my post about the book)– Ali is a certified (and possibly certifiable) genius. She’s a criminal profiler working in Vancouver, BC after nearly a couple of decades away to raise her kids. But when a serial killer’s victim is found near her home, she’s drug back into the professional world she left with the investigation. She has the most creative swearing this side of Malcom Tucker, a fantastic and fast mind, a jaded look at life, and a sense of humor that’s sure to please. Early in In the Still, she asks questions of a police officer in a public forum and pretty much ruins the poor guy — it’s one of the best scenes I read all year. If you can read that far in the book and not become a Ali fan at that point, there’s something wrong with you. If I was ranking these, I’m pretty sure she’d be #1.
  • Nick Mason from The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton (https://wp.me/p3z9AH-2NI)– A convicted non-violent criminal gets released early from an Illinois prison only to find himself in a different type of prison to work off his debt for being released, making him lose the “non-” in front of violent. He’s a great character, on the verge (always on the verge) of redemption and falling further.
  • Dervan du Alöbar from A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book is forthcoming) — I could’ve named about half of the point-of-view characters from this book, but Dervan eked out a win. He’s a widower in mourning. A former soldier, wounded in duty, turned scholar, turned . . . well — that’s a long story. There’s something about his coming to grips with the new reality, his new vocation, his self-awareness and growth in his personal life just really clicked with me. He’s basically an unqualified fantasy hero, forced to step up and play a role in saving civilization (which actually describes many people in this book, but that’s for another day).
  • Isaiah Quintabe from IQ by Joe Ide (my post about the book)– South-Central LA’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. We meet IQ early in his career and, via flashbacks, see him begin to develop the gifts that will make him the super-detective he’s destined to become. He’s such a great take on this character, I can’t believe no one beat Ide to the punch.
  • Anci from Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller (my post about the book) — yeah, her dad, Slim, is the series start and protagonist. He’s the one that goes trough all the hardship, the beatings, the investigative moves, not his 12-year-old daughter (who isn’t a young Veronica Mars clone, or Rae Spellman). But Anci is the heart and soul of the books — she’s why Slim goes to work in this field, and why he comes back. She’s smarter and wittier than any 12-year-old has any right to be (but believably so), she’s Slim’s conscience, and his reason for doing what he does.
  • LeAnne Hogan from The Right Side by Spencer Quinn (my post about the book)– comes back from Afghanistan after near-fatal injuries, and isn’t fit for the civilian life she’s thrown back into. She begins to deal with her grief and anger while hunting for the child of a dead friend with the help of a stray dog. She’ll break your heart.
  • John Rebus from Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (my post about the book)– Wow. How do I sum up Rebus? 2017 was the 30th anniversary of Rebus’ creation and the first year I read him. He’s a wonderful, complex character. He smokes too much, he drinks too much, he ignores the rules and regulations (and maybe even the laws) in his ongoing effort to forget about himself and his life by pouring himself into his work. Tenacious with a capital “T”, he may not be the smartest police detective you ever read, but he makes up for it through not giving up (although he’s pretty smart — especially when not drinking).
  • Hob Ravani from Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells (my post about the book)– Tough does not begin to describe this biker. She’s all about surviving on this planet that’s not at all conducive to survival — from the environment, to the economics, to the politics — there’s just nothing on the planet that wants her or her fellow Ghost Wolves to survive. But somehow she does.
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Righteous by Joe Ide

RighteousRighteous

by Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #2

Hardcover, 326 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2017

Read: November 3 – 4, 2017


Isaiah Quintabe is back with a couple of dynamite cases. IQ ended with Isaiah stumbling upon the car that killed his brother. So about half of this book is devoted to Isaiah’s renewed efforts to find the man who killed his brother. He quickly concludes that Marcus was not killed in an accident, as he’d believed and the police had included. Rather, it’s pretty clear to him that Marcus was targeted by the driver. So now, Isaiah starts digging — he finds more suspects than he’d prefer, and he starts to have some questions about Marcus’s lifestyle/livelihood.

That story alternates with an actual paying case — Marcus’ girlfriend (and the object of Isaiah’s teenaged affections) comes calling for Isaiah’s help. Her little sister, a gambling addict, and her equally addicted boyfriend are in trouble — they’ve got a Loan Shark gunning for them, and have resorted to some freakishly stupid lengths to get the money they need to get him off their case. These lengths have made them the target of some of the nastiest, deadliest, coldest criminals you’ve ever read. So, Isaiah and Dodson head to Vegas to help them. Dodson is fairly assertive here, not wanting to be relegated to sidekick and PR status, but to been seen as an equal to Isaiah — more of an Elementary‘s Joan Watson than Doyle’s John, without the student-vibe (or Dr. Eric Foreman to Dr. House . . . ugh, there are just too many versions of Holmes to walk an unbeaten path). Which is not to suggest that Ide’s blossoming partnership here is just a retread or a rehash, Dodson just reminds me of Joan a little. There’s a dynamic between these two that you don’t often see in detective duos, outside of police shows where two are forced to work together — a mix of partnership, antagonism, respect, and rivalry.

So why does Isaiah bring him along? Because he’s growing as a person, realizing that he needs social connections, other people in his life — he has a new dog, but that’s not enough. There’s even a longing for something like Dodson’s new family. His work, his trying to make something out of the wreck his life became after Marcus’ death — that’s not enough (nor is it finished) — he wants people around, and Dodson’s the first step.

There’s a couple of criminals wandering around Vegas making life horrible for several people that I’d love to see again — [spoiler] we won’t, and they got what they deserved — but man, I enjoyed them so much. All the “bad guys” (and, wow, were there a lot of them) were much more than your typical mystery novel baddies (even really well-written ones!). They were fully fleshed-out, individuals, with believable (and contradictory) self-interests and motivations.

As compelling as the baddies are, Isaiah is better. And in this book (like IQ) we see one of the ways that Ide is superior to Arthur Conan Doyle. In A Study in Scarlet, we see Holmes as the successful version of himself — on the verge of being a legend, really. Like Athena fully formed, emerging from Zeus’ skull. But IQ is still learning, still fallible — yes, he’s achieved a large measure of success and notoriety, but he’s still making mistakes. He’s good, but he needs more discipline, more patience, less ego, etc. In Righteous, as in IQ, we get the equivalent of Miller’s Batman: Year One and Barr’s Batman: Year Two. He’ll get to the point where his mistakes are more rare and less obvious, no doubt — but he’s not there yet. Combining this aspect of the character and the nascent social life and you’ve got a lot of fodder for character growth.

I’ve recently started reading (for those who don’t read every post) the John Rebus books, plugging my way through the 30 years of history of the character. I’ve received various encouragements from long-time Rebus readers to stick with it, the best is yet to come (not that I was in any danger of dropping it), and that I was reading something special. I can easily see myself giving similar encouragement to someone just starting these books in a decade or so. Isaiah is one of those characters that I can see myself reading for years to come. Between Isaiah and Dodson as characters, and Ide’s style and skill — this series is one to read.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

IQ by Joe Ide

IQIQ

by Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #1

Hardcover, 321 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2016

Read: September 18 – 19, 2017


The book opens with a criminal in the making, and a very slapstick-y incident. But even while grinning about that, you get the sense that this character isn’t going to be good for more laughs. He’s not — but thankfully, we don’t have to spend a lot of time on him, because Isaiah Quintabe (a.k.a. IQ) finishes his blossoming criminal career. Which is very effective way to introduce Isaiah, the unlicensed investigator, and his world to readers.

After this, we spend some more time with our modern-day Sherlock of South Central LA. He needs money, not another case that he takes on in return for some homemade cookies or something, he’s got a couple of big bills heading his way and requires cash to take care of things. His need for an infusion of cash forces him to align himself with a former friend (there’s a very good reason for that “former”) with a tie to a well-paying client. The client is a famous rapper who is convinced that someone is trying to kill him — he happens to be right, I should add, which makes the book a lot more interesting. (obviously, an investigator looking into a paranoid delusion isn’t going to be as action-packed as one looking into a person actually trying to kill someone). This investigation will bring Isaiah and Dodson into the not-as-lucrative-as-it-used-to-be music industry, into marital problems, petty jealousies, and a whole lot closer to pit bulls than at least one of them wants to be. The case is at once a showcase for Isaiah’s talents and something almost too complex for him.

We also get a series of flashbacks to the events that set Isaiah on this path, how he honed his natural abilities and inclinations to become the man he his — an unlicensed PI that helps out people in his neighborhood, many of whom wouldn’t turn to the authorities. So often with a Sherlock-type character, we just get the finished product — the Great Detective at the height of his powers, knowing all sorts of arcane information. But Ide shows us how Isaiah gets this information, how he earned it, improved his reasoning and observation skills. Also the why behind it all — why didn’t Isaiah take his genius into something that would make him more money? Why does he stay where he is? The flashbacks also show us Dodson and Isaiah meeting and falling out.

The two stories intertwine and are pretty equally intriguing, which is a real bonus.

There’s what seems to be an authenticity to the world Ide portrays — honestly, what do I know about the realities of LA? But it sure feels real, so either way, I guess Ide did his job. The characters — all of them, the good, the bad, the creepy, the slimy and everyone else are wonderfully conceived and executed. The crimes depicted are varied sophisticated (making them worth Isaiah’s time) — and at least one method of assassination is something I’ve never seen before. Ide does a great job of balancing the moods at work, the grim, the hopeful, the silly and all points in between.

There’s a passage in this book that is one of the best brief pieces of writing I’ve read this year, period. As I reread it (at least 5 times), I kept thinking of the Fiction Writing professors I had in college that would’ve made us study it for at least one class session. It’s during the “origin” portion, where Isaiah’s Geometry teacher is explaining inductive reasoning — these four paragraphs give you a strong character, setting, tone, a minor character (and even a brief storyline), a good idea what she looks like, her past, her relationship with her husband — and you get a good working definition of inductive reasoning, too! It’s really great.

This year (most recently, last week), I’ve also talked about another modern Sherlock — Victor Locke. How would I compare the two of these? There’s some similarities, and more than a few differences. At the end of the day, Victor Locke is a lot more amusing and entertaining. Isaiah, on the other hand, I could believe was real (I know he’s not, don’t worry). Isaiah is driven, he’s brilliant, he’s proud, he’s haunted, he has no obvious addictions (phew! wonderful change), he’s a bit more grounded than your typical Holmes-type. Dodson is the least John Watson-y Watson-figure you’ve ever seen, more of a hindrance than an assistant. Thankfully, also he’s not a narrator, and I’m not sure I could’ve handled a book from his point-of-view. It’s hard to summarize, but he works really well in this role.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end, with not a dull moment in between. Isaiah Quintabe is a keeper, and I’m already counting the days until his next book.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge