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An earthy hell is opened in new story of brutality, inhumanity

By Kevin Dicus
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 2, 1999
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If writing is cathartic, John Ridley must be a happy man. In fact, one can almost hear the sigh of release that must have passed through his lips after completing this book, as he leaned back, perhaps having a cigarette and enjoying that sheer absence of anger.

"Everybody Smokes In Hell" (Alfred Knopf, $23), as entertaining as it is, reveals such hostility toward its subject that, at times, it almost feels like a psychological exercise. The story focuses on Paris Scott, a Los Angeles loser who is controlled by his empty fantasies of making it big. When a tape of unreleased music from a drug-addicted, suicidal rock superstar comes into his possession, this seems to be the answer to his dreams.

Unfortunately for Paris, this also starts a cycle of events that brings Los Angeles' dregs out from their holes as murderous drug lords, morally bankrupt agents and downright psychotics all find good reason to get to Paris, fast.

"Everybody Smokes In Hell" sometimes seems to be a study of aberrant human behavior. Indeed, who is there to empathize with in this book? Paris Scott, who steals the tape from now dead rock star Ian Jermaine? Surely not Chad Bayless, the back-stabbing greedy agent of Ian. What about Nena, Paris' last minute sexual interest? Brice? One should fear this killer, not attempt to understand her motivations.

Perhaps that is the point of "Everybody Smokes In Hell." For as much as it is a story, so much more is it a scathing commentary of the selfish lifestyle found in the City of Angels, in the people Ridley himself calls in the book's preface "degenerates who populate the city I hate more than cancer."

Nevertheless, Ridley offers a strong story with powerful and severe writing. His talent for description and analogy creates a very visual story and his unflinching style brings brutality, man's inhumanity to man, screaming in our faces. Perhaps his rage and frustration were motivating factors in the creation of this book. In the same vein, however, is this same anger that created a good book of cruelty, revenge and deadly justice?

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