In The Spotlight: Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. PIs come from many different sorts of backgrounds, and take all sorts of cases. It certainly isn’t a ‘cookie cutter’ occupation. And that’s part of what can make a PI a very interesting character. Let’s take a look at one today, and turn the spotlight on Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow, which features her Melbourne-based PI sleuth, Simone Kirsch.

Kirsch is a newly-licensed PI whose background includes being a stripper. In fact, that’s why she wasn’t admitted to the police force, although that was her first choice. Her PI career hasn’t taken off yet, so she does freelance stripping for events like bachelor parties. She also works at a peepshow place called the Shaft Cinema. One day, her best friend, Chloe Wozniak, who also works at the Shaft, asks for her help. Wozniak works weekends at a table dance club called the Red Room, which is owned by Francisco ‘Frank’ Parisi. One morning, his body is pulled from a local bay, and it’s immediately clear that this was no accident. And that’s the problem. Wozniak was overheard having a loud argument with Parisi not very long before he was murdered, so she’s sure she’ll be a suspect. Kirsch advises her friend to tell the police what happened, but before that can happen, Parisi’s brother, Sal, takes matters into his own hands.

Sal takes Wozniak, and demands that Kirsch find out who killed his brother as the price for her friend’s freedom. He gives her two weeks to find the answers. Now, Kirsch has no choice but to get to the truth. And she decides to start with the people who work at and frequent the Red Room.

Kirsch goes undercover at the Red Room as a new table dancer whose stage name is Vivien Leigh, and slowly gets to know some of the other dancers. From them, and from other sources in the business, Kirsch begins to get a picture of the dead man. He was, as it turned out, a thug who made plenty of enemies, both inside and outside the club. So, there are several possibilities, some of them very dangerous.

As the time gets shorter, Kirsch follows several leads. The trail takes her through a few different peepshow cinemas, table-dance clubs, and a sex-industry expo called Sexpo. It also puts her in the sights of a corrupt police officer and a few other dangerous types. Kirsch isn’t heedless of the risk, but she’s afraid that Sal Parisi won’t think twice about killing his prisoner. So, she perseveres. In the end, and with some help from her PI mentor, among other people, Kirsch finds out who really killed Frank Parisi and why.

This is a PI novel, so Kirsch doesn’t have the law behind her as she talks to people. There’s also information to which she’s not legally privy. She makes effective use, though, of her contacts in the sex industry, and of some of her friends. She also makes use of news items, television, and so on. It’s not spoiling the novel to say that she also gets help and some information from a police detective, Alex Christakos.

The story’s context is the Melbourne sex industry, so readers get to go behind those curtains to see what goes on in table-dance clubs, peepshow cinemas and so on. Readers also get to know some of the characters behind the micro-shorts, thigh-high boots and halter tops.

In one sense, this is a gritty novel. There are several scenes of very explicit sex, so readers who prefer not to read detailed sex scenes will want to know this. There’s also a lot of discussion of the sex industry. Readers who dislike profanity in their novels will want to know that there’s plenty of that, too.

That said, though, the novel isn’t what you’d call noir. It’s got more wit than noir novels usually do. There is violence in the novel, but it’s mostly ‘off stage,’ and not described in gory detail; and Redhead doesn’t present a hopeless, bleak portrait of life in Melbourne’s sex industry.

In fact, by and large, the dancers and other characters we meet are quite empowered. They’re in the business because they want to be, and they help each other. Here’s the way Kirsch describes it:
 

‘I remembered how much I loved stripping, not the hustle, but the dancing, the rush of power and control. You could be sexual and shameless, yet completely insular, intimate without giving any of yourself away.’
 

Another character says this:
 

‘‘…art, power, self expression, and you can’t beat the money.’’
 

This isn’t to say that there’s no corruption in the industry. But the picture painted here is not one of, say, forced sexual slavery.

The story is told from Kirsch’s point of view (first person, past tense), so we learn quite a bit about her. She’s smart, capable, and at times, witty. She’s no superhero, but she is resourceful and can be outspoken. She drinks at times more than she should, but she’s far from the stereotypical drunken PI who can’t interact well with anyone. She smokes (although she had given the habit up) and doesn’t always say ‘no’ to a bit of pot. Readers who are tired of female characters being exploited will be pleased to know that Kirsch is very much empowered. That’s not to say she’s invulnerable; she’s not. But she’s by no means anyone’s easy prey.

The solution to the mystery is rooted in the past, and it’s ugly and sad. Without spoiling the story, I can say, too, that the motive is complex. It’s the sort of solution that invites readers to think about what they might have done.

Peepshow is a sometimes-raunchy, sometimes-witty look at life in Melbourne’s sex industry. It’s the story of the murder of a roundly-hated thug, and features a PI who makes good use of her brains, resourcefulness and, sometimes, stripping skills. But what’s your view? Have you read Peepshow? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight

 

Monday, 10 April/Tuesday, 11 April – Something in the Air – John Alexander Graham

Monday, 17 April/Tuesday, 18 April – A Jarful of Angels – Babs Horton

Monday, 24 April/Tuesday, 25 April – Wife of the Gods – Kwei Quartey

25 Comments

Filed under Leigh Redhead, Peepshow

25 responses to “In The Spotlight: Leigh Redhead’s Peepshow

  1. It sounds very intriguing for sure but I don`t care for explicit sex scenes. Did you find them necessary Margot or do you think they were deliberately placed for the marketÉ

  2. Great to see Leigh Redhead featured in In The Spotlight, Margot. I love her Simone Kirsch novels, and her short stories are wonderful, too. She has one I think you’d enjoy in ‘Crime Scenes’.

    • Thanks, Angela. And I like the Simone Kirsch stories, too. I think the character’s very well done. And speaking of her creator, I read Leigh Redhead’s Grassed (part of Crime Factory’s Hard Labour anthology, along with your own Killing Peacocks). I enjoyed both very, very much. Definitely a skilled author. Well, of course, you both are.

  3. Col

    I think I would enjoy this one. An author I haven’t tried yet.

  4. Another new author and an intriguing new PI. Thanks for the introduction, Magot. It sounds like a PI that’s grounded and knows how to deal with people on a different playing field.

    • That’s a good way to put it, Mason. She is grounded, and she has a solid, practical sense of dealing with people. If you read this one, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  5. I’m glad that this one has a bit of humour to lighten the topic otherwise it sounds as it could easily feel a bit heavy-going. Definitely an interesting premise as a backdrop and one that isn’t often chosen.

    • You make a well-taken point, Cleo. The wit really does keep the book from getting too gritty. And, yes, it’s a different sort of context, and that makes it interesting. I’ll admit; this series may not be for everyone. But it does have a fascinating premise, and Simone Kirsch is a strong character. If you read this one, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  6. Hello, Margot! In spite of everything, this sounds fairly “noirish,” though as you say it isn’t. I like a bit of wit in everything I read, even sf and horror if that’s possible. Simone Kirsch is a new type of PI, and even lead character, and it’d be interesting to read how she juggles her two occupations.

    • I think that challenge – juggling different aspects of life – is handled very effectively here, Prashant. And I agree completely: a touch of wit can really add to a story. If you try this novel, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  7. This sounds very interesting, and the background in the sex trade authentic and convincing. I have mixed reactions to explicit sex scenes, but it sounds justifiable and non-exploitative here would you say?

    • I know just what you mean, Moira, about the explicit sex. I have mixed reactions, too, in general. In this case, I don’t think it’s out of place. And, no, it’s not exploitative – certainly not in the sense of young women being forced, coerced, etc.. into doing what they don’t want to do. I was, if I may say, quite happy about that. The story itself is interesting, and, yes, the context is really authentically depicted.

  8. I had to chuckle at the name of the dancer in the Red Room. Didn’t Vivien Leigh, the actor, play the shower scene woman in Psycho?

    • Isn’t that a great name, Sue? It was Janet Leigh in Psycho. Vivien Leigh took the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. And what’s interesting is that Kirsch mentions that in the novel. If you read it, I really hope you’ll like it.

  9. I’ve never asked myself this before, but the question popped into my head as I was reading your review: what’s the difference between a PI and a citizen snooping around in a case? I thought a PI was someone trained like a police officer who worked in the police department.

    I read a detective book that looked into the sex industry, though not nearly as much as it sounds like your book did. It was called Deadly Fantasies by Kelly Miller–https://grabthelapels.com/2015/06/22/deadly-fantasies/

    • Interesting, GtL, that you read a similar novel. The sex industry is an effective context for a crime novel when it’s done well. As to your question about the PI, it’s an interesting one. PIs are not (or don’t have to be, anyway) associated with a police department. PIs take special courses where they learn investigation techniques and interview techniques, as well as what their legal limits are (since they are not law enforcement officials). When they’re ready, they apply for, and get, a PI license. That doesn’t mean that anyone’s required to talk to them. but they are professional investigators who’ve been taught how do that. A citizen looking into a case (who isn’t a PI) has no such preparation and no license. It’s even riskier and less believable for such a person to go looking into a murder investigation, so for an author, it takes a lot of work to make it believable.

      • Ah, I see! The licence definitely makes a big difference to me. Otherwise, anyone could play detective, as we often see in cozy mysteries–which drives me insane.

        • I know what you mean, GtL. It’s very, very difficult to have an amateur sleuth who is also credible. I actually give a lot of credit to any writer who can make an amateur sleuth work. Some have done it, but it’s not easy.

  10. This one definitely sounds worth looking into, Margot. Thanks for this spotlight.

    • It’s a really interesting look at Melbourne’s sex industry, Tracy. And Simone Kirsch is a strong, empowered character. It may just be my opinion, but I find those characters interesting.

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