"Peepshow" & "Rubdown" by Leigh Redhead
If you're in the mood for some good-natured crime trash, then I can't recommend Peepshow and Rubdown by Leigh Redhead highly enough.
I devoured both these books in a matter of hours and was left hungry for more!
They follow the adventures of a stripper/private investigator and the murder cases she investigates amidst the world of Melbourne's sex industry scene.
It's a welcome change from the standard memoir/academic text. Although fiction, there is a strongly authentic voice in both these books. Either Redhead is a sex worker herself, or she got a bunch of sex workers to edit the book for her. I really don't think I could find anything to criticise… and the few times I was on edge worried dodgy politics were around the corner, she proved me very wrong!
Her central character, Simone, is a hoot. She is not cleaned up at all and manages to avoid being a cliché. She is neither the pure, perfectly together, multiply-qualified, completely uncompromsied "perfect" hooker, nor is she the degraded, drug addicted street walker stereotype. She is just a real human person. Same goes for her best friend, Chloe, who is wonderfully entertaining.
Simone drinks, smokes, swears like a sailor, makes some dumb decisions, tells a couple of dickheads off, wreaks some serious justice and perhaps most shockingly of all, ENJOYS her work! At one point she talks about the thrill of voyeurism in the work, which I really related to. She also doesn't candy-coat or glamourise the work, but talks about it in a very real way. Eg - that sometimes the work sucks because the client is just sitting there with no expression on his face, which I can relate to more than the "waaah I feel so DEGRADED" stuff.
I think there is lots of confrontational material about sex work in these books and I enjoyed the thought of straight people reading them and getting an education whilst being entertained by a hearty crime story. Simone has lusty desires and a fiery temper so she doesn't hold back on what she thinks.
All of the men in the book - including Simone's love interests - come off pretty badly. They serve to demonstrate and reflect discriminatory attitudes and stigmatising behaviour. Simone usually has something to say to them though I really wanted her to smack one of her love interests upside the head, which she didn't do, but then we don't always stand up to the people we have crushes on. There is an interesting sub-plot in Rubdown involving the immigrant sex slave debate… which has a very interesting resolution. There is also a rather sensitive handling of some trans issues I appreciated. At one point, one stripper gets haughty about peepshow work to which another counters something along the lines of we're all sex workers, should be united not discriminate against each other and they have a toast to it.
The humour in the books is cheeky, satiric and sharp. There is a great parody of Victoria and David Beckham and, I believe, a sly dig at Project Respect as well…
I'm seeing both books around the place for $13 each so snaffle up a copy! I just found Redhead's website and she was indeed a stripper: www.leightredhead.com
The third, Cherry Pie, is coming out at the end of the month… yay!
Review by Elise, March 2007