Cover image for Everybody smokes in hell
Everybody smokes in hell
Ridley, John, 1965-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.
Physical Description:
235 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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John Ridley -- author ofStray DogsandLove Is a Racket-- is back with a scathingly funny, outrageous new novel that chronicles the mayhem unleashed by the misadventures of one hapless young man trying to make it in Hollywood. Paris Scott can't make anything work out. A failed Hollywood screenwriter, he works nights at a convenience store, and drives a '74 Gremlin. And he was just dumped by his best girl. But when the last master tape of a freshly-suicided rock star and a small fortune's worth of stolen drugs fall into his lap, he seems to have stumbled on the key to his dreams. It might as well be a neutron bomb. Although the people who want the dope get themselves dangerously confused with the people who want the tape, it's clear to everyone that Paris is the target. And how does a guy who's wanted dead stay alive? "Get out of town, get some money, then get more out of town." Paris puts his Gremlin in gear and the resulting chase and chain- reaction madness stretches from Los Angeles to Las Vegas leaving a trail of blood, bodies, and broken hearts in its wake. Dope dealers, Hollywood agents, two-bit criminals, three-bit criminals, waitresses, rock stars, strippers, beautiful women, not-so-beautiful women, honest working Joes and psychopaths -- no one comes out clean in this raucous romp-and-stomp. It's John Ridley at his most devilishly sly, laying out proof that, without a doubt, everybody smokes in hell.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A novel of incredible, often-nauseating violence in which the majority of the characters are only marginally sympathetic? Sounds like a tough sell, and yet, that capsule description applies to much of the latter-day noir floating to the surface these days as writers continue to lace their black comedy with gore--apparently in hopes of catching Quentin Tarrantino's eye. Formulas, however, exist to be confounded, and Ridley, in Love Is a Racket [BKL Je 1 & 15 98] and now in this similar but even edgier new novel, confounds our expectations even as we form them. The tale begins with a bungled crime that serves as a catalyst to a further series of ever-more-bloody mistakes. What complicates matters is a double McGuffin: a cache of stolen drugs in the possession of a scared lowlife and the tape of a dead rock star's last song, stolen by the lowlife's roommate, a loser with illusions of grandeur. Neither one knows the other's secret, so when the violence starts, motives are hopelessly muddled. Inevitably, the drug dealers chase the guy with the tape, who knows nothing about the drugs, and the agent's henchmen, after the tape, run afoul of the drug dealers. It's a Marx brothers scenario, except the stakes are bloody death instead of silly pratfalls. We read this novel as one might watch a chain-reaction car crash, appalled yet transfixed by the mayhem. As the bodies pile up, it becomes clear that all the victims--and everyone is a victim here--share one pathetic but humanizing trait: the desire to look tougher than you are, to not reveal the scared part inside. Unfortunately, those scared parts usually wind up spilling out on the floor, after yet another bullet lodges itself in the wrong body. Clearly, this is not a story for every taste, but neither was Pulp Fiction. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

With his clipped, jagged prose and darkly imaginative plots, Ridley has proven himself as one of the new chroniclers of the rot that some find festering beneath the glistering veneer of Los Angeles. Here, he's in good form, slashing out a black comedy that may be a little too disturbing for some tastes, but is nonetheless memorable. In Ridley's city of unattainable dreams, Paris Scott is its personification. He works the night shift at a scuzzy Hollywood mini-mart, drives a '74 Gremlin and was recently declared a loser by his ex-girlfriend. But Paris finally gets his break: he comes into possession of the last musical works of rocker Ian Jermaine, just before the star commits suicide. Paris tries to sell the tape for $1 million but quickly finds that several people would rather kill him for it. Also in Paris's possessionÄunbeknownst to himÄis a large quantity of cocaine that a different set of killers want back. After Paris clumsily dodges several murder attempts, he flees to that other city of tacky dreams, Las Vegas, where the mayhem continues. The narrative is peopled by all sorts of misfits and undesirablesÄoily Hollywood agents and their insufferable sidekicks, ignorantly vicious drug dealers, tragically hopeful immigrants and a beautiful expert at torture who savors the driving beat of Bachman-Turner Overdrive while inflicting pain on her victims. There's a moral hereÄthat there are no easy roads to success and fulfillmentÄand Ridley (Stray Dogs; Love Is a Racket) gets around to that point after all the blood is spilled. His writing may ooze bitter disdain for L.A., but it's clear that the city fascinates him just as much as it repels him. Though his strong, conversational voice carries the story, one hopes that next time around he'll put his talent to work on a plot with more depth and substance. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In his cynically comical third novel, Ridley (Love Is a Racket) exposes the seedy underworld of glamorous Hollywood. Paris Scott is a young man who arrives in this land of dreams planning to become a rich movie mogulÄbut instead ends up working nights at a convenience store. When, by mistake, he gains possession of a valuable recording and a stash of stolen drugs, he jumps at what he sees as his opportunity to get rich quick. But the contraband brings a dangerous parade of Hollywood agents, drug dealers, and women into his life and sends him running from L.A. to Vegas. As usual, Ridley ably strings together a series of unlikely events, making them seem wholly plausible. Continual action, believably unsympathetic characters, and minimal description combine to keep the reader riveted. A welcome change of pace from much of today's plodding fiction; recommended for all public libraries.ÄCraig L. Shufelt, Lane P.L., Hamilton, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



HOLLYWOOD was what the sign said. Said it in giant white letters. Said it big as every dream of every dreamer who ever came Tinseltowning. Said it for all the world to see, when anyone could see it at all through the blanket of smog that kept the city of Los Angeles bundled up tight.          Hollywoodland was what the sign used to say. Not anymore. A bunch of decades ago the "land" part, having fallen into a state of disrepair, crumbled up and tumbled down the hills, the Hollywood Hills, with all its palatial Hollywood Hills houses. The three-million-, five-million-, as-many-million-dollars-as-you-want-to-spend houses of the movie stars and the movie stars' wives and the movie stars' mistresses and the movie stars' personal trainers who fucked the mistresses while the movie stars were out making movies about a guy who loves his family.          Drop down some more and you come to Los Feliz with its smaller, but still kinda big and still very nice houses that were more for the middle class, if you consider middle class a family that rakes in two fifty to half a mil a year. It was LA middle class anyway.          And keep dropping down the hills, down, down, like you were taking the express to purgatory's basement, you hit Hollywood. Dirt, soot, traffic. The homeless. That's what you see without even looking hard. The rest is just Mexicans cruising in their low riders, crackheads passed out in the street -- maybe passed out, maybe just dead -- and an urban rainbow of gang-ready kids. And, of course, there was the occasional movie studio.          It was night. The movie studios were closed. The cruising Mexicans and the gang kids were in full effect. Hollywood belonged to them. And then there was the white guy. Not just white like you call your average pink-fleshed guy white. This one was dead -pale white. Hold-him-up-to-the-light-and-see-his-kidneys white. Too white for most twenty-something in a land of beach and sun. Shaggy hair -- dirty and tangled like a ball of yarn used to clean floors -- hung from his head, obscuring his face. He moved in a hophead/dope-fiend slow dance, a drug/booze mix his unseen partner, and therefore went just-another-junkie unnoticed as he swooned and swayed his way across the parking lot into the 24/7 Mart past the counter. The counter is where the clerk, a black guy sporting an official multicolor 24/7 Mart top, rang up an old Russian Jewess who, along with her husband, had survived the massacre at Zagrodski by the SS Einsatzgruppen to one day come to America, to California, to Silver Lake, where her husband got shanked to death over fifteen bucks and change one night when he was walking the dog. The clerk behind the counter didn't know any of this. Didn't care. Couldn't even pronounce Einsatzgruppen. What he cared about right then was the pair of thirteen-year-olds trying to snatch a copy of Penthouse from behind the counter -- not particularly because they wanted to see chicks in the buff, they peeped naked chicks on cable for free, but because it was more of a challenge to steal shit from behind the counter than from anywhere else in the store -- as he rang up the old Russian woman who he didn't like because she was always whining about something, not knowing about Zagrodski or her husband or that she had every reason in the world to whine because the world had not once ever done anything right by her.          He swatted at the two young boys. The clerk swatted at them with his hand and sent them scattering, sent them running past Emilio and Carmen, who were huddled by the dairy case at the back of the 24/7 Mart. Emilio had his right hand up Carmen's sweater. Emilio was working her left tit out of her bra. Emilio was getting to some serious fondling like he usually did with Carmen by the dairy case at the back of the 24/7 Mart 'cause that was one of the few places he could fondle Carmen 'cause Carmen's father hated Emilio 'cause Carmen's father thought Emilio was a no-good, lazy so-and-so whose sole intention was to fuck his daughter. Carmen's father was right. Carmen's father should've kept a better eye on Carmen. Emilio's left hand massaged Carmen's full Mexican ass. Emilio loved Carmen's Mexican ass, and whispered with his sexiest voice in Carmen's ear how much he loved her Mexican ass, which really pissed Carmen off as Carmen's family was from Ecuador. Emilio got his face slapped. Later him and her would freak in the back of his tricked-out Chevy, but for now Carmen stormed off, shoving her tit back into her bra as she went, with Emilio begging and pleading right behind. They brushed past Buddy and Alfonso. Buddy and Alf were like a latter-day Abbott and Costello -- Buddy being kind of short and kind of dumpy while Alf was tallish and decent-looking, at least to those who went for the slicked-back-hair-and-five-o'clock-shadow look. Most likely the same six people who never missed a rerun of Miami Vice . Alfonso was in the middle of sliding a forty from the Mart's beer cooler, popping it open and slurping it down. Twenty-eight years old and Alf still got the same schoolboy high from stealing a beer as the thirteen-year-olds did trying to snatch the Penthouse .          uddy wasn't getting any kicks. Buddy was just nervous. Nervous because Alfonso was stealing the beer, nervous about what was going down tonight. Nervous because he didn't want to come off as nervous. Buddy was tired of being a nervous guy. He wasn't going to be a nervous guy much longer. Buddy had convinced himself that soon, real soon, courtesy of Alfonso he was going to be a hardass. Alfonso finished the beer, moved for the counter. He grabbed up a pack of Twinkies along the way and tossed them down before the clerk who wore the official multicolor 24/7 Mart top and a name tag that read "Paris," and who happened to be Buddy's roommate. Not even checking the price, Paris rang up the Twinkies same as he'd done with tens of dozens of Twinkies and Ho Hos and Ding Dongs and Slim Jims and Chocadials in the thirty nights and counting he'd been working at the 24/7 Mart. "Three oh three," Paris said. "For a pack of Twinkies?" Alfonso said back. "And for the beer you drank." Paris pointed to one of the convex mirrors that hung near the ceiling. Alfonso looked at the mirror, then back at Paris. He got with a smile. The smile said: "Fuck you." What Alfonso said was: "Well, ain't you Convenience Store Man? Another couple of years of this, and maybe they'll let you start working during the day." "Three oh three." "What if I don't got it?" His smile went on saying "Fuck you." Buddy: "Give him the money, Alf." Alfonso just kept staring at Paris, kept smiling at him, kept waiting for him to do something, the something he knew Paris would never do except stand there while a guy cracked wise at him. Buddy again: "Just give him the money!" "Fucking wimp." Alfonso looked straight ahead, but he could've been talking to either of the roommates; to both of them. Buddy clawed for his wallet. "Here, take it." His fingers moved so quick they were barely able to dig free some bills and fumble them to the counter. "Just take the money." "Fucking wimp." This time, for sure, it was meant for Buddy. Buddy to Alf: "We don't need any extra drama. Not tonight." Paris to Buddy: "Why you getting messed up with this guy?" It was a rhetorical question. Paris knew Buddy well enough to be hepped to his aspirations of becoming a hustler and a player; a man who was connected and respected. Like every other nobody in LA, he wanted to be somebody. The dude Buddy had chosen to apprentice under, Alfonso, was none of the things Buddy wanted to be, but he mimed the banter and faked the rest good enough so that being in Alf's proximity made Buddy feel like he was moving smooth and steady along the road to Mack-dom. And it's not that Paris much cared what Buddy did or who with, but Alf was such an obvious fuckup he had to ask his roomie: "Why you wasting time with him?" "How about you just worry about your own shit?" Alfonso stepped in to cover for Buddy. "Wasn't talking to you." "Well, I'm telling you. . . ." Alfonso pressed himself up against the counter. It was all that separated him from Paris, and there was nothing but empty air to keep Alfonso from reaching out and giving Paris a great and mighty ass-kicking if he wanted. Paris took a slight but obvious step back. "Worry about your own shit, or I'll give you some shit to worry about." Shared stares. Alf's angry, Paris's anxious, Buddy's scared. Eyes flinching around the room, sweat streaking over his forehead, Buddy was a long way from quitting his nervous-guy ways. He inched for the door: "I'm . . . I'm gonna . . ." "Do yourself a favor, Buddy. All this guy's going to bring you is trouble." "What are you, his mommy?" Alfonso cutting in, not giving up the press. "What are you? Nothing but a wannabe hood." Reflexively Paris flinched in anticipation of the automatic punch to the head that was likely to follow that brand of smart mouth. But the remark didn't so much bother Alfonso as give him something else to fuck-you smile about. "Oh, yeah," he said. "I'm nothing. Why don't you say that again while you're ringing up a Big Guzzle. I'm nothing . . . and you're nothing but a loser." For a real quick second a picture flashed in Paris's mind. A picture of her screaming those same words at him, the memory of it a bitter sting like a bad scar that won't fade away. "Shut up!" Paris yelled back. "How's the world look from across that counter? Better get used to the view. "Get out of here!" Alfonso got out. He took all the slow-groove time he wanted doing it. Buddy tagged along behind. Paris was left standing right where he was, kept close company by the shame of so readily accepting the humiliation he'd been handed. A beat later the filthy white guy took up the space at the counter Alfonso had previously filled, his arms brimming with frozen burritos. Frozen burritos were a popular item with late-night hopheads. The filthy white guy opened his arms and the burritos thudded on the counter cinder-block heavy. Without putting thought to it, Paris scanned the burritos as he'd done with tens of dozens of frozen burritos and frozen pizzas and frozen burgers and frozen chili dogs he'd rung up in the thirty nights and counting he'd been working at the 24/7 Mart. Thirty nights. One month. Happy anniversary, Paris. Paris said: "Eight dollars." Filthy White Guy dug gangly hands in his pockets; pale fingers pulled out a bill. A hundred-dollar bill. Filthy White Guy just held it up for Paris like it was nothing but ordinary for a filthy white guy to come around a 24/7 Mart in the middle of the night buying frozen burritos with a hundred-dollar bill. Paris took the bill and looked it over careful, as if he would know a fake one when he saw it. After going through the motion of giving Ben Franklin all the attention he felt he deserved, to Filthy White Guy: "Welfare been good to you, huh? I always knew even poor white guys was rich." Barely Paris made change, gave it back to Filthy White Guy. Filthy White Guy jammed the fistful of bills in his pocket with all the care of someone who'd gotten back used Kleenex for their cash. Scooping up the burritos, Filthy White guy carried them -- dropping a few along the way, they bounced off the linoleum -- over to the complimentary 24/7 Mart microwave and put them, all of them, inside. Paris, who had watched this one-man "Just Say No" campaign, came around the counter. "C'mon. One at a time." It was just then the two thirteen-year-olds, who had been laying in wait for the perfect op, reached over the counter and grabbed the Penthouse they'd been eyeing all night. "Hey!" Paris moved for the kids. Filthy White Guy turned on the microwave. The overstuffed machine groaned and flashed and popped and spewed radiated burritos all over the store. The kids made it out the door. Everywhere, burrito parts dripped and slid and oozed in downward patterns. Paris caught a glimpse of himself in one of the Mart's security mirrors. His body, draped in the multicolored uniform, distorted by the curve of the glass, made him look very much like a pathetic circus clown. "I can't deal with this," the clown muttered. "I can't deal with it." Excerpted from Everybody Smokes in Hell by John Ridley All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.