Written by Andrew Nette — “Beautiful one day, perfect the next.” That’s how Queensland, Australia’s advertising campaign Sunshine State describes the weather in the country’s second largest state. The beaches and pristine waters from Coolangatta in the south to Cape York in the far north attract tourists from all over the world. But that’s not all that Queensland is known for. Throughout the 1970s and 80s Queensland was known as a brutal and corrupt police state, run with an iron fist by premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Most of this happened before I was born, but the picture painted of 1980s Queensland is of a lawless state, where organised crime and police walked hand in hand. Things changed after the Fitzgerald Inquiry investigated Queensland police corruption, but the modern-day Sunshine State still makes a perfect setting for a crime novel.
Gary Chance is ex-army, recently back from Afghanistan, missing the tip of one of his fingers, and looking to get back into work. He does a few odd jobs, mostly manual labour in the mines in outback South Australia, but one line of work keeps coming back to him: crime. When a safe-cracking job in an outback pub goes pear-shaped, Chance finds himself running all the way to the Gold Coast suburb of Surfers Paradise. In Surfers he is taking part in another heist; the theft of millions of dollars from Chinese-Filipino playboy Freddie Gao. Gao travels the world with briefcases full of cash, ready to lose it all at poker tables. The people Chance is working with see Gao as an easy target, but Chance isn’t so sure.
The crew assembled to complete the job with Chance include Frank Dormer, another veteran with a cruel streak as wide as The Strip, the main tourist stretch in Surfers. Along with Dormer there’s Sophia Lekakis, a dark-haired hotel receptionist who will let them into Gao’s hotel room, and Amber, whose job it is to fulfil Gao’s passion for blondes. The job seems easy – scare Gao into handing over his money, and then leave, but this is a heist novel, and nothing in a heist novel ever goes to plan.
When Gao changes his plans, packing for Sydney a day earlier than expected, the job suddenly changes. Chance and the team have to rush to put their plan together in only a few hours. The results go as well as should be expected. Before long Chance is nursing a gunshot wound, as well as some bruises from diving out of a hotel window into a pool. He and Amber (real name Kate) drive south, away from Surfers Paradise towards Yass, a small town just outside Canberra, and home to ‘the Chinaman’, the aging criminal who found Chance this job.
Despite a title that is a pun on the sunshine state, the majority of the action occurs outside Queensland. After departing for Yass with the Queensland police on their tail, Chance and Kate head to Thailand, where Chance is given a round of no-questions-asked plastic surgery, and once again finds himself forced into doing a job he doesn’t like the sound of. Next he finds himself heading to Melbourne, on his way to settling an old score.
Andrew Nette used to contribute to Crime Fiction Lover as PulpCurry is an almost unmatched authority on all things pulp-related, including the subgenre of the heist thriller. This depth of knowledge shows through in the frenetic plotting and pacing of Gunshine State. Of the heist novels I’ve read recently, this one stands out as the best example, with modern criminals and a modern edge. All it lacks is a fully-realised police character. Detective Sergeant Elyssa Blake, who leads the investigation and the chase, is a complex and interesting character with a dark past, but just doesn’t get enough of the story. Of course, the heist novel is all about the criminals and on that score you can’t go wrong with Gunshine State.
For books in a similar vein and by the same publisher, have a look here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars