Thursday, November 26, 2009

Crime Fiction: Peepshow by Leigh Redhead

Simone Kirsch gets naked for a living. As we learn in Leigh Redhead’s 2004 thriller, Peepshow (recently re-released by The Outfit), she works in Melbourne’s sex industry as a peepshow performer. Wanting something better, and knowing that strippers often have short careers, she’s earned her license as an “inquiry agent,” Australia’s term for private investigator.

Her first case?

Strip club owner Frank Parisi has been stabbed and dumped in the ocean. Sal Parisi wants someone to pay for his brother’s death. He picks Simone’s pal Chloe, since Chloe had a beef with Frank. Simone manages to talk Sal out of killing her best friend, but of course the trade-off is that now she has to find the real killer. Just to be sure he’ll get what he wants, Sal kidnaps Chloe as collateral. Simone begins her investigation by taking a job as a stripper at Frank’s club, the Red Room. Things soon turn ugly. She runs afoul of Dick Farquhar, a corrupt cop. She also manages to pick up a boyfriend with anger issues. From there, Simone engages in a cat-and-mouse game with Sal, Farquhar and possibly an unknown suspect. And she immerses herself in the stripper role, even indulging a coke habit she’d already worked so hard to kick.

Author Redhead draws on her own personal history to paint a vivid portrait of Melbourne’s seedier side. The city that tourists visit and in which ordinary office employees live isn’t so different from the Melbourne that sex workers inhabit. And making this clear is perhaps Redhead’s biggest accomplishment. The strippers and peepshow performers work in a business, and the city they live in isn’t some sort of alien landscape. The men in Peepshow tend to be a bit aggressive, often after only one thing. But then again, most sex workers, legal or otherwise, see only a single type of male in the course of their work -- denizens of a seedy underworld that Redhead shows us is only a few steps away from our own.

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