Christmas Eve, 1986. Times Square, New York. The heart of the red light district where seedy nightlife thrives; the kind of nightlife where you pay for the booth to light up and reveal the girl, and what comes next depends on how much you pay. Dick Durbin is a peeping tom. Dirty Dick they call him. So when he comes charging into Roxy’s booth and asks her to hide a videotape for him until later, she has a pretty good idea what is on that tape.
Next thing she knows, two detectives show up and Roxy wonders if there is more to it than Dick’s usual material. Without an ounce of Christmas spirit between them, Detectives March and Alvarez are looking for whatever Dick has hidden. Maybe she should have given it to them, but instead she seeks advice from her ex-boyfriend and his techie friend, and the trio learn the truth about Dick’s last video, and why he won’t be coming back.
Focusing on the other characters who end up tangled in the mess that Dick’s tape starts, rather than using the detectives as the central driver, Peepland follows the story of Roxy and her co-workers as the truth and falsehoods about a terrible crime caught on video are revealed, investigated, covered up and the consequences of all play out.
Several of the time’s core themes are explored through the various threads of the narrative, from gender roles and objectification, racism and attitudes towards immigrants, homosexuality, AIDS and the misconceptions that came with it – all of societies judgments and stereotypes are laid out and shamed, through the narrative, without compromising on or overshadowing the story.
From the first frame to the last, Peepland is impressive. The atmosphere, the characterisation, the level of background detail and historical accuracy – cultural references, clothing and hair styles, politics, societal attitudes – it all provides total immersion into this period of time and all of its darker aspects. Not only is this novel stunning on the visual front, the narrative too is honed to perfection. Information is revealed at the right time to deliver a gripping, one sitting kind of read. If there were more to come, it would be lapped up.