The sex industry is highly profitable, so it’s not surprising that it employs a lot of people. Of course, it’s also potentially very dangerous, which means that sex workers, among other people, sometimes take real risks. And there are some very ugly sides to the industry – aspects that even people in the industry find abhorrent. Despite the danger, it’s part of life in many places, including crime fiction. Oh, and you’ll notice in this post that I won’t be putting any focus on prostitutes, which is what a lot of people think of when they think of the sex industry. There’s more to the industry than that, and there are many, many books in which prostitution plays a role, so, too easy!
Leigh Redhead’s Simone Kirsch is a Melbourne-based former stripper who’s trying to make a living as a private investigator. She’s just getting started in the PI business, so she still does occasional stripping gigs. She knows people in the industry, too, and the fact that she’s been in the business means her contacts are more open with her than they might be with the police. The four novels in the series (Peepshow, Rubdown, Cherry Pie, and Thrill City) explore different aspects of the sex industry (peep shows, strip clubs, exotic massages, brothels, and a sex industry expo). And readers get to see some of what goes on in the background to make it all appealing.
In Donna Malane’s Surrender, we are introduced to Wellington-based missing person expert Diane Rowe. A year before the events of the novel, Diane’s younger sister, Niki, was murdered, and Diane’s life turned upside down. The search for Niki’s killer cost Diane her job (as a police officer) and her marriage, and the killer wasn’t caught. As the novel begins, Diane’s ex-husband tells her that Niki’s killer has himself been murdered, and in the same way. This news pushes Diane to start again and look for the truth about her sister’s death, even though it cost her so much before. One place she looks for clues is Niki’s former employer, a sleazy strip club called Pussy Galore. Diane finds out that there was more going on there than stripping and pole dancing, and readers get a look at this part of the sex trade.
Jill Edmondson’ series features Toronto PI Sasha Jackson. More than once, the cases she investigates involve the sex industry. In The Lies Have It, for instance, she’s working part time as a bartender. When a guest is murdered during a fetish club party at the bar, she gets involved in finding out who the killer is. Frisky Business takes her into the adult film industry when a porn star is murdered. In these novels, we see that the sex industry is more complex than it seems on the surface. We also see some of the real sorts of people who are in the business.
An adult film cinema plays a role in Colin Dexter’s The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn. In it, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis investigate the murder of Nicholas Quinn, the first Deaf member of the Oxford Foreign Exams Syndicate. That group has charge of exams taken overseas, in countries with a British education tradition. When Quinn dies of poisoning, attention naturally turns to his work colleagues, and it turns out that every one of them is hiding something he could have found out. So, there’s more than one motive for murder. As Morse and Lewis sift through the evidence and talk to everyone, they find that an afternoon at a porno cinema plays a role in several people’s alibis. And there are several scenes in which Morse visits the cinema, and readers get the chance to see a bit of how those places are run.
And then there’s Paul J. Heald’s Death in Eden, which features Professor Stanley Hopkins (yes, Sherlock Holmes, fans, I noticed that name, too!). He’s working on a law thesis on the exploitation of women in the pornography industry – a study that he hopes will be his ticket to tenure at his university. He happens to run into an old friend, Donald Johannson, who owns an adult film studio. At first, it seems like a real stroke of luck; Hopkins will get the chance to do some interviews, and Johansson may get some of the credibility he and his studio need for his latest film to go ‘mainstream.’ Then, Johansson’s top star, Jade Delilah, is murdered in his office during a party. When he is arrested for the murder, he asks Hopkins to help him clear his name.
There are a lot of other novels, too, in which adult films, strip clubs, escort services, and other facets of the sex industry play roles. And it’s not surprising, when you consider how lucrative and prevalent they are. And they are complex, too, with different sorts of people involved, so there’s lots of room for plot and character development.
*NOTE: The title of this post is Billy Joel’s Captain Jack.