5 Stars, Poppy Z. Brite, Subterranean Press

D*U*C*K (Rickey & G-man #5) by Poppy Z. Brite

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina put the Crescent City on the world stage, a horrifying and profoundly decimated stage that touched a nerve in the consciousness of anyone who had either witnessed the destruction firsthand or who sat safely in front of the television, thousands of miles away, and mourned for the unspeakable loss and punishing aftermath.

D*U*C*K is Poppy Z. Brite’s love letter to not only New Orleans but to Rickey and G-man and all the other wonderful and colorful characters that have populated this series. Bad things happen to good people every day, but only in the world of fiction can one nightmarish thing be made never to exist, and that’s what “DocBrite” has done in homage to this unique city.

Of all the places hit hardest by Katrina, nowhere suffered more than the Lower Ninth Ward, Rickey and G-man’s childhood home, the place where they met, became friends, and eventually fell in love. But with the force of words stronger than any hurricane wind, Katrina never was. Poppy Z. Brite spared New Orleans from the crushing devastation, and subsequently gifted John Rickey and Gary Stubbs with the continuity of the hopes, dreams, and their reality that otherwise would’ve been stripped away from them. The levees never failed, the Superdome never became the scene of shocking and tragic loss, people never stood on rooftops begging to be rescued, the streets were never flooded by either water or the human flotsam and jetsam left in the storm’s wake. No, the only storms in this story are the ones of Rickey’s own making, and as he always has, he weathers them alongside the man who has been his anchor and his touchstone for more than twenty years.

There isn’t much that can be said about this book that hasn’t already been said about the previous four in this series. This is Rickey and G-man, their trials and triumphs and their unwavering loyalty to their home. There’s an immense sense of nostalgia to the narrative, which is portrayed as the love of the city from her native sons, though, in fact, we know that that sense of reminiscence is coming from an author who watched a city fall and has now witnessed the pride and spirit of its people rise from the storm waters again.

D*U*C*K can be found in print format at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It can be purchased in electronic format, paired with The Value of X in the book Second Line HERE.

4 Stars, Poppy Z. Brite, Three Rivers Press

Soul Kitchen: Rickey & G-man #4 by Poppy Z. Brite

Well, apparently chefs are just moody bastards. (Pardon my Français.) Who knew? Certainly not me. And who knew pretentious food prepared by a pompous, self-important master of “molecular gastronomy” could be cause for a few good laughs? Again, not me. At least not until I read Soul Kitchen.

Murder was afoot ten years ago at an upscale restaurant called the Top Spot, and an innocent man was robbed of his freedom because of it. Milford Goodman was the head chef of the restaurant at the time the owner met her untimely demise, and in a gross miscarriage of justice, he ended up spending that decade in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Free now after DNA evidence proved he couldn’t have possibly committed the heinous crime, Milford is trying to make a new life for himself. It’s hard to do, though, when the color of your skin and the stain on your reputation overshadows the content of your character.

But Rickey knows Milford, knows all about his brilliance in the kitchen, and faster than you can say two-hundred recipes for corn bread, Milford’s got himself a new job at Liquor, where business is slow, the kitchen’s all shook up, Rickey’s popping pain pills like candy, and somebody’s burning Popsicle stick crosses in the parking lot. Yes, you read that right—Popsicle stick crosses. I didn’t know whether to be outraged on principle or belly laugh at the mental image, see, because it made me think of the little people dancing around the miniature Stonehenge in This is Spinal Tap. But I digress.

After the disaster that was Dallas, Rickey is tempted, though reluctantly, back into the consulting biz when New Orleans businessman Clancy Fairbairn and Doctor Frank Lamotte tap him for some input on their new brain child—an upscale eating establishment on their casino boat on Lake Pontchartrain. There are several things that can be relied upon where Rickey and consulting are concerned. One, he’s always good for a gimmick, and two, when he gives into his love for creating the next big thing, something bad is pretty well guaranteed to happen. ::sigh:: Poor Milford. Just when things were starting to look up…

I’m beginning to think G-man is the only sane and decent guy left in NOLA. Oh, Rickey’s a good guy when he’s not busy being pushy, overbearing, arrogant, or is strung out on narcotics and ignoring the best thing that’s ever happened to him in his entire life. Hmph. Not to worry, though, it all works out in the end.

After the deep, heartfelt love that was Prime, I was just the littlest bit…not disappointed with Soul Kitchen, never that, because let’s face it, this is Rickey and G-man and that automatically equals Yippee! for me. But this shorter, less involved installment in the series felt a little bit like enjoying a five star meal, then being offered JELL-O for dessert. It’s tasty and there’s always room for it, but that’s mostly because there’s not a lot to it. That’s the way this installment felt to me: not quite solid, a bit wobbly, but still molded into something that was awfully pretty to look at.

Buy Soul Kitchen at Amazon and other major etailers.

5 Stars, Poppy Z. Brite, Three Rivers Press

Prime: Rickey & G-man #3 by Poppy Z. Brite

Oh, temptation. Life is full of it, sweet and evil temptation.

Rickey and G-man have given in to a few enticements over the course of their years together—booze, drugs, money; the kind of money that will get Rickey exactly where he wants to be in spite of the fact that he has to wager a little bit of himself as collateral just to get there. But the one thing they’ve never been, in fourteen years together, is unfaithful to each other. Is that really so remarkable? I suppose it depends on how much you believe in the idea of falling in love with your best friend at the age of sixteen and then never wanting to be with anyone else. Funny thing about temptation, though, is that it’s persistent. The moment your defenses are at their lowest, that’s the time it’s sure to show up like the proverbial bad penny, and that penny’s name just so happens to be Cooper Stark.

Cooper was once the darling of the New York restaurant scene: celebrity chef, cookbook author, handsome and wealthy, and he almost, almost tempted a young and star-struck Rickey into a one night stand when he was a student at the Culinary Institute of America. That single indiscretion might’ve put a permanent end to his relationship with G-man, but as Shakespeare once said, “All’s well that ends well,” and Rickey’s big old heart won out over his horny little head.

Drugs and ego were Cooper Stark’s downfall and though he’s still a brilliant chef, he’s now working in a struggling restaurant in Dallas, a city that wants a side of beef with its beef, and it just doesn’t seem to appreciate the cuisine in which Cooper specializes. The owner of the restaurant, one Frank Firestone, a man who’s more than a little crazy and has some sketchy connections to the District Attorney of New Orleans, offers Rickey ten-thousand dollars for a week in Dallas to overhaul the menu and turn the restaurant into a profitable venture. Ten grand is a whole lot of temptation for a couple of guys who want to buy out their silent partner at Liquor, so Rickey takes the job and earns his ten Gs because he apparently has the gift of gimmick. And yeah, guess what, that attraction between him and Cooper is still there, and this time around, Cooper’s got an agenda of his own.

Paranoia and scheming apparently is a way of life in New Orleans politics, (or politics in general, come to think of it) and there’s a rather elaborate plot by the DA, Placide Treat, to take Lenny Duveteaux down, which starts with a rather craptastic review of Rickey and G-man’s restaurant. If Lenny goes down, though, chances are that Rickey and G-man and Liquor will go right down with him, so before you can say, “I’ll have fries with that,” (don’t do it. Rickey would kill you.) there’s guilt and betrayal and conspiracy and murder and an explosion and a dead bastard son. And then things get really weird.

Julie Andrews can have her raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. I’ll just take Rickey and G-man. They’re a couple of my favorite things, like the sizzle to my steak, like the comfort food of my literary soul.

Prime is by far may favorite book in this series. At least, so far. Not only was it kinda funny (Rickey has a bad butt rash in this one. Don’t ask.), but it was also a taut and tense read. The friction between Rickey and G-man was pitch-perfect. These guys are in a real relationship filled with real issues and they work through these issues the best way they know how. In the end, there’s no question they’re going to be okay, and that’s really okay with me.

Prime can be purchased at all major etailers as well as via the publisher, Three Rivers Press/Random House.

4.5 Stars, Poppy Z. Brite, Three Rivers Press

Liquor: Rickey & G-man #2 by Poppy Z. Brite

Well, no one warned me there was going to be a decade time span between The Value of X and Liquor, but that’s okay; that made it feel a lot like I was getting to spend some time catching up with good old friends I hadn’t seen in a really long while, and it was so good to be with them again.

Rickey and G-man were reunited after Rickey’s failed attempt at culinary school, which nearly tore these two boys apart, but they’ve been inseparable ever since Rickey arrived back in NOLA, moving in together, working together, loving each other. These two guys seem to be “it” for the other. I mean, sometimes fate gives you one chance at happiness and when it does, you sit up and pay attention. If you don’t, it’ll knock you on your arse and make you pay for that mistake. They’re smart boys, though, and found the value of what they’ve got with each other.

Some of their history is retold in this installment of the series, easily making Liquor a standalone read if the teenage angst of coming out and falling in love with a best friend isn’t really your cup of tea. John Rickey and Gary Stubbs are all grown up now and dreaming of owning their own restaurant someday—well, mostly Ricky is. G-man’s more like his dad, Elmer: go with the flow—but all they’ve had so far is a long series of crap jobs in other people’s kitchens that have barely helped them to make ends meet. But inspiration strikes like lightning, sometimes only once, and when it does, yep, you sit up and pay attention. And you also use whatever resources are available to you, though sometimes that means taking the bad with the good.

I’m not a foodie, far from it. I’ve never cared how a restaurant kitchen runs or what it takes to get a restaurant up and running from ground zero. Mostly I just want my food hot and palatable and free of other people’s hair, (blech) but darn it if Poppy Z. Brite hasn’t created two characters who’ve made me care…a lot. The writing in this book is so descriptive that I’d swear I gained five pounds, reading it. It makes me want to hop on a plane to New Orleans and eat my way around the city, because though this book isn’t really a romantic chronicling of Rickey and G-man relationship, it is very much a love affair with food and with the city and the people who live there.

The cut-throat ambition, superstitions, and stress that is the restaurant business are all lovingly detailed by an author who has firsthand experience there, and it shows in the ease with which Poppy Z. Brite draws you into the story. This may not be the most deeply plotted book I’ve ever read, (there’s a paranoid coke-head nemesis out to get Rickey) but it is one of the most genuine depictions of a partnership I’ve ever read. These men drink, smoke weed; they make mistakes with each other and go weeks at a time putting work and life ahead of their relationship; they aren’t cookie cutter characters and they charm with their authenticity and imperfections. Rickey and G-man are what make these books irresistible to me, and I love them in all their realism.

Buy Liquor at Amazon and other major Etailers.

4 Stars, Poppy Z. Brite, Subterranean Press

The Value of X by Poppy Z. Brite

I think I’ve found a new obsession and their names are Rickey and G-Man. Actually, her name is Poppy Z. Brite, so yeah, she made me love these boys; I’ll give credit where credit is due, but Rickey and G-Man are the reason I’ll keep coming back for more until there is no more left to come back for.

The Value of X is the beginning of their story together, and it’s not an easy start. How can it be when neither of the boys is old enough to have any say-so in what goes on in their lives? They’ve been best friends since the fourth grade, but somewhere about the time their hormones kicked into “from zero to sixty in two-point-two seconds” gear, they come to the undeniable conclusion they wanted to be way more than besties, and their struggle to discover if the other felt the same was a big part of the draw for me.

It’s also at about that same time that Rickey’s and Gary’s parents, (their moms and Rickey’s dad, at least; Gary’s dad mostly just goes with the flow.) come to the conclusion their boys’ feelings for each other don’t fit into the find a nice girl, get married, and make babies blueprint, so they come up with a plan to keep the boys apart after high school graduation, thinking that distance will “cure” them of their feelings for each other. Go ahead and groan at this part; I did. The saddest thing about the plot, though, is that it almost worked, and that made my heart clench for the better part of the book.

Rickey’s love affair with food and plans for his future guarantee he’s going to go along with his parents’ plan to send him to culinary school in New York State, which is a hell of a long way from the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. For Rickey and Gary, it may as well have been in another galaxy far, far away. These boys are kids from families with no disposable income, which means no spontaneous trips home for Rickey during the school year. The story is set in the early ‘90s, so they don’t even have the luxury of cell phones and video messaging. They are as separated as two eighteen year old boys could’ve possibly been at that time, and the letters they write to each other become increasingly distant as well, until they cease altogether.

This book is filled with all the urgency and angst of first love, and the promises that are made with the innocent faith that those vows will be easy to keep. But the reality of it is that promises are easily made and sometimes are just as easily broken even though the intention was never there to do so. Rickey and Gary persevere, though, in spite of temptation, in spite of the drugs and alcohol they turn to, to cope with the hurt and anger and desperation they feel. One of the many things I love about these characters is that they are perfectly imperfect. They aren’t the stuff born of fantasy; they’re real and flawed. They don’t have six-pack abs or trendy clothes or look as though they belong on the cover of a magazine. They make mistakes and really questionable decisions, but they learn. The most important part is that they learn, in the end, what they truly mean to each other, so I’ll read on and see what’ll happen next for them. I’m looking forward to finding out.

*The Value of X can be found in hardcover from the major e-tailers. To purchase it in electronic format, it can be found in the book Second Line, which pairs it with the fifth book in the series.*