“Never been crazy about Mexican food — I’m a haute cuisine boy from way back.” –Frank Firestone
I finished Prime the other night, Poppy Z. Brite’s sequel to Liquor. Not as good as the first, but still an enjoyable read, enough so that I’m looking forward to book three in the series, Soul Kitchen.
Prime picks up with Rickey, G-man, and Lenny, two years after the opening of their restaurant, and tells a very complicated tale that manages to intertwine Lenny’s shady business practices, the internal political maneuverings in the New Orleans DA’s office, and the revamping of a floundering Dallas-based restaurant owned by a rich Texas businessman/yokel named Frank Firestone.
It wouldn’t be possible to go into how all these threads are related without doing major spoiler damage. Unlike Liquor, which was basically a suspense/thriller story hiding behind a restaurant tale, Prime is a mystery novel. And that might be where its weakness lies, because all the secrets that drive the plot stayed hidden right up until chapter 25, where they were all just sort of awkardly blorped out onto the page in a big lump, right before the climactic scene. Some people can write these kinds of things and do them justice, and I don’t know if that’s where Brite’s strength lies.
What makes it worth reading, though, are the characters, who are all rich and colorful and fully-formed and wonderful. I wanted to keep reading because I feel like I know these guys, and I want to know what happens to them next.
And of course, when Rickey travels to Dallas, all the New-Orleans-native-in-a-foreign-country scenes just tickled me to death, since once again they are so spot on, so exactly like my experience moving to Houston after growing up on the West Bank. Seeing grown men in cowboy boots, and “rivers” that don’t have enough water in them to float a piroque, never mind a freighter. And wondering what the hell things like “last call” and “dry county” mean, and why you can’t walk out the front door of a bar with your drink.
Rickey had been completely befuddled when Coop said Oak Cliff was a dry neighborhood. At first Rickey thought he was talking about the climate, and wondered aloud how it could differ from the rest of the city’s.
“No,” said Coop, “dry as in no alcohol.”
“No alcohol? What the fuck do you mean?” Rickey hadn’t meant to be rude, but it was as if Coop had suddenly started speaking another language. “Do they stop you at the border and take it away or something?”
Coop laughed. “Nothing like that. You can have it in your home. But the stores don’t sell it, and there aren’t any bars here.”
“What about the restaurants?”
“I never eat over here,” Coop admitted. “I think they can serve alcohol, but the customer’s supposed to show a drinking permit. I hear the waiters never ask to see it, though.”
“A drinking permit?” Rickey clutched his head. “How can there be a drinking permit? That’s the most retarded thing I ever heard.”
If you liked Liquor, you’ll still like this one. It’s still some of the best true-to-New-Orleans lit I’ve run across.