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.