I’ve been keen to post a review of Andrew Nette’s latest novel, Gunshine State, on this blog. But seeing as how Andrew is not only a great crime writer but also my life partner, I could hardly be the one to do the review. Instead, it’s my pleasure to welcome crime writer and guest reviewer Jock Serong to the blog, with his review of Gunshine State. Read on…
Gunshine State by Andrew Nette
Review by Jock Serong
There’s a fine line to negotiate when you’re making fiction of the pulp kind. From Raymond Chandler to Frank Miller, if you’re going to do pulp you have to bow to certain conventions, without ever allowing yourself to wallow in cliché. For this and so many other reasons, Andrew Nette’s second novel Gunshine State is a triumph.
Gary Chance, the dark and deeply compromised hero of Gunshine State, takes us on a wild ride from industrial Port Pirie in South Aus, to Surfers Paradise, then down to Yass, away to Thailand and finally to Melbourne, on a whirlwind journey out of the clutches of various bad guys and into heaps more trouble besides. The other location that figures heavily – though the action never goes there – is Afghanistan; functioning as a kind of netherworld from whence all the bad guys emerge; and where they learn their evil trades. There’s levels of badness involved here (the nearest thing to a good guy winds up shooting someone at point blank range), but the deepest circles of evil depicted by Nette spiral inevitably back to Kabul.
The tropes of pulp fiction, as I was saying, are masterfully deployed. The hideout in the grotty rural motel. The hooker with a heart of gold, dabbing the hero’s wounds while he grimaces. The coffee and stakeouts in parked cars. And guns: guns everywhere. Snub-noses, automatics, sawn-offs…in the streets of Nette’s imagination there was never an amnesty, or if there was, these shadowy figures have ignored it. I fear there’s some truth in that notion.
Surfers Paradise in particular looms large in this tale of double crossing and heists gone wrong. The gangsters there, Costello and Dennis Curry, are survivors of the Vietnam War, the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the halcyon days of the city itself. There’s a sense that the corruption and its rewards have passed into younger hands and they’ve been left tending the ferns on their high rise balconies, old and embittered. The book’s title hints at the old aphorism about the Gold Coast being a sunny place for shady people: this is a masterful depiction of a metropolis gone to seed.
The plot hurtles forward, aided by the constant motion of the characters – no-one sits still for long in this tale, and we’re treated to perilous car rides, motorbikes and even, memorably, a boat. All of this racing around helps to underscore the fact that mistakes are being made: misjudgements born of haste and fatigue that will have bloody consequences. Very few of these shiftless hustlers have the luxury of reclining in their lair and thinking out their next move.
Gunshine State is gruesome, visceral fun and it never lets up for a second. What a quantum leap it is for Australian crime to see the mean streets of Philadelphia or Chicago seamlessly overlaid onto the bistros of our eastern seaboard. If you’ve got the eye – and Nette certainly does – noir is everywhere you look.