Crime Scene: ANDREW NETTE Gunshine State. Reviewed by Lou Murphy
Gunshine State is an Aussie pulp thriller chock-full of colourful characters, aliases, street-wise philosophy and unrelenting action that sustains it to the very last.
Meet Gary Chance, a 32-year-old ex-army crook with a distinctive missing left pinkie and a heart for danger. When he is involved in a botched small-time robbery, he is left with no choice but to embrace big-time crime. To escape the attentions of the authorities and avoid serious jail time, Chance rekindles his shady business relationship with the ubiquitous Mr Long, AKA the ‘Chinaman’, an organised crime magnate who runs his illegal empire from the back of the Jade Dragon takeaway restaurant in Yass.
So starts the rollicking ride that is Gunshine State, a meaty thriller that travels from the Iron Triangle of South Australia to the Glitter Strip of Surfers Paradise, south through NSW and the ACT and on to Yass, overseas to Thailand, and back to Melbourne. Along the way, Chance drastically changes his identity and is forced to collaborate with other lowlifes and career criminals, including Frank Dormer, a shifty major player – also ex-army – who professes his own unique love of the ‘game’:
‘… You got that feeling, Jacobi, like someone’s tugging at your balls, the dryness in your throat? I used to get it something fierce in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hours leading up to a patrol. Will there be contact? How bad will it get? I’ve got it now and I love it.’
Chance realized what he disliked so much about the man standing in front of him. Dormer was what was known as a gladiator digger, the kind of soldier who sunbathed in tactical positions, hit golf balls into Taliban territory, posed for photographs next to bloodied, cowering prisoners. They enjoyed the glamour and machismo of war, reveled in the everyday acts of random ugliness and brutality that were part of it.
He’d always avoided them. They were dangerous, the kind of people who could get you killed …
Nette’s raw, pared-back writing injects Chance’s racy journey with unexpected pathos. Adept at filling in the backstory of each misfit, Nette poignantly captures the experiences that have defined their personal takes on desperate. While on the way to bury a dead body, Chance has a disturbing exchange with Taverner, his target’s shady American associate:
‘Why do I get the feeling you’ve done this before?’ Chance tried to make eye contact in the rear-view mirror, but the American’s face was in shadow.
‘In my previous line of work, I’d sometimes get a phone call in the middle of the night, a guy sounds like he’s gargled Drano, tells you there’s a problem. Occasionally it’d end in a bit of spade work.’
‘And what exactly was your previous line of work?’
‘This and that.’
Leading the hunt for Chance and his cohorts is female Detective-Sergeant Elyssa Blake, a career cop with a personal vendetta in play. Her tomboy exterior contrasts with the other mysterious, beautiful women that grace the gritty underworld Chance inhabits, including ex-FIFO prostitute Amber (AKA Kate). Having signed up for the same ill-fated job, they develop an unlikely friendship. When she and Chance become fugitives, and she tends to his injuries, their unfolding relationship takes on deeper meaning. Are they too damaged to become anything more than criminal compatriots? If so, Chance must face the possibility of change:
… survival was twenty per cent luck and wits, eighty per cent the ability to compartmentalise. You had to focus, not take shit personally, stay uninvolved. He’d broken all three rules big time. All he could do now was try to get out of the situation alive …
A violent yet entertaining caper with a uniquely Australian flavour, Gunshine State pays a piss-stained homage to the tradition of Robert G Barrett. A laconic, real, and bloody larrikin of a tale.
Andrew Nette Gunshine State 280 Steps PB 2016 306pp $29.95
Lou Murphy is the author of the crime novel Squealer, available from http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/LouMurphy
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