September 20, 1999
“Everybody Smokes in Hell” by John Ridley
Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times
John Ridley’s first two novels, “Stray Dogs” and “Love is a Racket,” were the kind of thrillers that critics and fellow writers like: smart, edgy, ugly but with moments of poetry. His formula is pat: down-and-out characters want something, want it real bad, and they’re all wanting and scrambling and reaching at the same time and mayhem ensues.
In his third book, “Everybody Smokes in Hell,” Ridley turns the amp up to 11. He does for the noir genre what Quentin Tarantino did for independent movies.
Paris Scott, the main character, is a Hollywood loser who stumbles onto a rock musician’s last recording before death. His roommate, Buddy, stumbles onto a brick of heroin. Both think they’ve been given their big break. But no. They’re about to meet up with an extravagant cast of strippers, agents, rednecks, even an immigrant convenience-store manager. Some want the tape, some want the dope, some want the rush of violence, some just want to survive.
At first, Paris figures he can score a million dollars for the tape. After a lot of blood and death and plot twists, he just wants enough money to escape to the Florida Keys with a woman, any woman he can get his hands on.
Ridley draws his characters well, even the minor supporting characters, and he knows how to keep a story jumping, but there’s no emotion here. Neither Paris nor anybody else in this novel invites empathy. An opening disclaimer states, “Any similarities between the miscreants in this story and the actual insipid degenerates who populate the city I hate more than cancer is purely coincidental.”
Sounds like it’s time for Ridley to move his stories to a new locale, because Los Angeles is beating him numb.