Love Is a Racket

John Ridley, Author Alfred A. Knopf $4.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-375-40142-8
Ridley's second novel (after Stray Dogs, 1997) brings panache and a kooky premise to a familiar setting. Jeffty is an African American L.A. grifter whose hustles inevitably fail, whose screenplay everyone deems ""beautiful"" and whose plot to wring money from old-time movie mogul Moe Steinberg is as quintessentially Hollywood-gothic as a mansion on Mulholland Drive. Jeffty concocts the scam of a lifetime to enact revenge on his bookie, Dumas, whose goon breaks Jeffty's finger. Sadly for him and for us, Dumas proceeds to bump off Jeffty's best chance of making the payback money (and the story's most interesting character): Nellis, a wife-killing junkie who wins fortunes by applying Zen techniques to poker games. Jeffty is left to run his scam using a beautiful street girl, Mona, who bears an uncanny resemblance to James Dean's dead, sometime girlfriend, the real-life movie star Pier Angeli. It seems Steinberg may have orchestrated Dean's death in order to get close to Angeli. Jeffty's sure that when he sees this perfect replica, dressed up in 1950s clothes, Steinberg will refuse her nothing. While the swindle plays out, a cop called Dentphy pressures Jeffty to inform on Dumas. By the time the scam and story reach their climax, the characters don't know whom to trust and neither do readers. The preposterous plot is less important than Jeffty's voice, saturated with classic noir self-mockery and convincingly compromised morals. Even if Ridley ignores such glaring questions as why he keeps a gun he never uses, or why Dumas leaves Jeffty alone long enough to carry out his plan, die-hard fans of neo-pulp will forgive these slips with hardly a second thought. 50,000 first printing. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 07/01/1998
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-0-676-54304-9
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