#review Gunshine State, Andrew Nette
GUNSHINE STATE has been compared to Garry Disher's Wyatt series for a very good reason. The anti-hero characterisation here is as crisp and clear as you'd want, with Gary Chance the sort of loner survivor that has stepped straight from the pages of classic noir into the bright lights and dodgy business of Queensland's high-roller world.
When approaching such well sculpted and highly stylised ground as this, there can be a lack of fresh perspective. Not so in GUNSHINE STATE which uses many of the well-known elements of noir (the bad boy central character, dark settings, shabby dives, surrounded by a very dodgy group of potential back stabbers), lifting it somewhere different with the predominantly Queensland "Gunshine" setting, establishing a character like Gary Chance who is part hardman, part hair trigger, part lover, all of whatever it takes.
Chance is the sort of bloke that you know will get himself out of all the trouble that his choice of occupation (thief / standover man / enforcer / whatever pays) gets him into. You will, however, always be guessing just how much clinical violence will be employed to achieve that. Having said that, just about everybody he surrounds himself with here has an element of questionable character about them (even the victim) so there's something nicely contained about the entire situation.
There are many high-points in GUNSHINE STATE. Written in beautifully crisp prose, lean and pointed, there is still sufficient room for nuance in character development. The main characters here all have their good and bad points, they are believable, without overt clichés and extremely easy to connect with. The setting is perfect, with the high-rise anonymity of a tourism focused location, and excesses of the Surfer's "reputation" combined with the image some have of sun and surf to create a very effective contrast. Even the title - GUNSHINE STATE - with its spin on the well known tourist slogan, fits exactly with what for many, is a much more sleazy underground vibe.
What GUNSHINE STATE does as well is avoid the trap of style over substance. For all the lean and mean styling and strong characterisations, there is also a very solid plot. Believability again being the key here. There are all twists and turns you'd expect when the people on your side are as bad as the ones you're up against, and there's a certain type of person that does not take being screwed over - literally or figuratively - quietly.
It is evident that much of Nette's work (and interest) centres around noir and pulp styled fiction. His deep knowledge of the style and cadences of that sub-genre have been evident in earlier works, but in GUNSHINE STATE it's pitched just about as perfectly as you can get it.
There's room in Australian crime fiction for two lone-wolf anti-hero types, and Wyatt's got some serious competition now.
A heist thriller set in Queensland, Melbourne and Thailand. Think Richard Stark's Parker, Garry Disher's Wyatt, and Wallace Stroby's Crissa Stone. Add a touch of Surfers Paradise sleaze and a very dangerous stopover in Asia.
Gary Chance is a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief. His latest job sees him in Queensland working for Dennis Curry, an aging Surfers Paradise standover man. Curry runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Frederick 'Freddie' Gao.
While the job may seem straightforward, Curry's crew is anything but. Frank Dormer is a secretive former Australian soldier turned private security contractor. Sophia Lekakis is a highly-strung receptionist at the hotel where Gao stays when he visits Surfers. Amber is Curry's attractive female housemate and part of the lure for Gao. Chance knows he can't trust anyone, but nothing prepares him for what unfolds when Curry's plan goes wrong.