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Tucson Weekly Flippin' A U-Turn

John Ridley Tells A Spare Tale Of Small Town Sleaze

By Tom Danehy

NOVEMBER 3, 1997:  WHEN JOHN PULLS his busted-up Mustang into a gas station at the edge of barely there Sierra, he's been cheated, beat up, double-crossed and mutilated. But things have only started going bad for him. On the run from the mob and desperate to escape this little grease-spot of a town outside Las Vegas, John will live a lifetime in Hell over the next 24 hours. It seems that everyone in Sierra has been driven mad by the heat. They all want out, but no one has the sense or the nerve to go. There's the blind veteran who sits on the porch while his dead dog gathers flies; and Grace, the Devil-goddess who seduces John and promises to run away with him if only he'll do her one small favor--kill her husband and steal his money. But Jake, the husband, wants John to kill Grace. Then there's the Sheriff, who pops up all the time but never really does anything. And Darrell, the walking dirt collection who keeps jacking up the cost of the repair to John's car. These and other oddballs do a dance of death in 108-degree heat, with understandable (but not predictable) results.

Sounding familiar, movie goers? Stray Dogs is, in fact, the book on which Oliver Stone's U-Turn (also written by Ridley) was based. This amorality tale, written in a style that makes Elmore Leonard seem verbose, is told through clenched teeth; hard-bitten to the point that one marvels when Ridley is able to find room for a noun and a verb in the same sentence. It's a sharp, angry, evil book best gulped down in one sitting, then set aside...but not forgotten.

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