Francois Choteau, “Frankie” to his friends, is a homicide detective with the New Orleans police department. One night he and his partner Kenina are called to the scene of an apparent suicide, but it isn’t the victim that catches Frankie’s eye, it’s his young lover Kajika Fortier, the most beautiful man the somewhat closeted detective has ever laid eyes on. The attraction between the two is mutual, but Kajika is a witness if not a suspect so Frankie tries to keep his distance.
Kajika pursues the detective despite how he knows it looks. In Frankie he sees an opportunity to find a real life partner who can be more than the sugar daddy the dead man was. Even once the case is closed, the detective holds back from jumping into a relationship. He doesn’t just want a fling, which is what he fears the much younger man will be, and his nosy partner, who has served as his beard and has her own designs on him, won’t leave him alone.
“I like Em Pretty” reminded me of those old Hollywood B movies and the dime-store detective novels they were based on. There’s the overworked hard-boiled detective, his pretty assistant who is in love with him but can never have him and lots of cheesy dialog like “Gee, Frankie, I was jus’ lookin’ out for ya.” Only, in this updated version, the assistant is his partner, and she will never have him because he’s gay. There’s one other significant difference: there’s no mystery. Not even a hint of one. Early in the story, it’s easy to assume that the case of the suicide of Kajika’s lover might be less open-and-shut that it appears, thus keeping the two apart, but that complication never materializes.
The lack of any mystery is only a problem if you were expecting this to be a crime novel, rather than the relatively simple romance it is. Another issue some might take with the story is that the only major female character is the bad guy. Frankie’s partner Kenina is portrayed as a jealous bitch who has deluded herself into thinking her partner’s sexuality is a choice and that she can make him change his mind. The ‘evil woman’ is a common theme of gay fiction, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s written by women (the author of this book is a pen name for an author of other stories I’ve reviewed here). I don’t get it, but it doesn’t piss me off like it does some readers.
In the end, despite the sometimes eye-rolling dialog, the indecisive protagonist, and the sudden mood swing at the end meant to foreshadow the sequel, “I like Em Pretty” is a pleasant if forgettable read.