GUNSHINE STATE ~THE HEIST ALWAYS GOES WRONG
I have enjoyed PULP CURRY—the spicy, noir-centric blog administered by Australia’s ANDREW NETTE—for many years. I also thoroughly enjoyed Andrew’s first novel GHOST MONEY when it was published in 2012.
Set in the mid-nineties, Ghost Money was unusual and intriguing, following Australian ex-cop Max Quinlan as he searches for a missing businessman amidst the chaos of the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency in Cambodia. Ghost Money was more than a crime novel, it also engaged me intellectually through its stark examination of a broken country and those individuals trapped between two periods of history, the choices they make, what they do to survive.
Recently, Andrew’s heist thriller set in Queensland, Thailand and Melbourne—GUNSHINE STATE—was published by upstart crime publisher 280 STEPS. Since Andrew’s knowledge of and fascination with heist thrillers and films is more than a match for my own, I was excited to dig into this intricate caper and it’s ensuing complications.
Complications? Absolutely. Because the immutable truth of every heist thriller and caper film proves the heist always goes wrong...
I’m not sure if Andrew originally coined the catchphrase, the heist always goes wrong, but he has certainly turned it into a touchstone on his blog and made it a mainstay of his social networking outlets. From Richard Stark’s Parker novels to Max Allan Collin’s Nolan tales to Garry Disher’s Wyatt capers...the heist always goes wrong. From Rififi to Topkapi to The Seven Golden Men to The Italian Job to The Caper of the Golden Bulls to The Thomas Crown Affair...the heist always goes wrong. Heist novels, caper movies, even real life crimes, hinge on the unravelling complications when the heist always goes wrong...
I had the opportunity to grill Andrew about Gunshine State and his love for the heist genre...
Tell us a bit about Andrew Nette, Pulp Curry, and (for those not in on the pun) the title Gunshine State…
I am a Melbourne-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. I have published two novels, of which Gunshine State is the latest, a swag of short stories and am currently co-editing a couple of books on the history of pulp fiction, the first of which looks at how various youth sub-cultures have been depicted in pulp fiction in the US, UK and Australia, 1950-1980. Pulp Curry is what I believe is called in the trade my online authorial real estate. It is my site where I write about crime fiction and film, pulp and popular (and not so popular) culture.
The main character in Gunshine State, Gary Chance, is a former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief. His latest job takes place in Surfers Paradise, working as part gang run by an aging stand over man, Dennis Curry, who runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Frederick Freddie Gao. The job seems straightforward, but Curry's crew is anything but. Chance knows he can't trust anyone, but nothing prepares him for what unfolds when Curry's plan goes wrong.
If you look it up on the Internet, you’ll see the term Gunshine State has been used to refer to the US state of Florida. I only discovered this after I had decided use it as the title for my novel. I first stumbled across the term in a tabloid headline I read years ago about gun trafficking in Queensland. Whatever the case, I think you get the drift of what it means, somewhere sunny with a lot of crime and dark deeds.
How and when did your fascination with heists in novels and films start?
Watching crime films with my late father. My love of a lot of good things, jazz music, vintage pulp novels and movies, can be traced back to things I was exposed to in my youth though my father.
If you had to pick one heist film and one caper film as your favorite what would they be?
That’s a tough one. If I had to pick a favourite heist film it would probably be The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), although John Huston’s 1950 classic, would come close. Robert Mitchum is fantastic as Eddie Fingers Coyle, a 51 year-old ex-con, gunrunner and who knows what else in his criminal career, facing the prospect of a three to five year jail stretch for being caught driving a truckload of stolen whisky. Coyle will do anything to stay out prison, but all he’s got to trade is information, in particular, information on the identity of the gang that has been pulling off a series of audacious bank robberies. Supporting Mitchum is a wonderful group of character actors, including Stephen Keats, Richard Jordan and Peter Boyle. The story, look, the dialogue, every aspect of this film works superbly.
I consider caper films a softer, often more humorous variation on the heist movie (plus, in a caper film, the criminals usually get away with it). If I had to nominate a favourite it would be another Peter Yates film, The Hot Rock, released in 1972. Based on novel by Donald Westlake (whose writing I love), the story revolves around a thief called Dortmunder (Robert Redford), approached by the ambassador of an African state (Mosus Gunn) to steal a valuable gem from a New York museum. This film has a terrific cast (in addition to Redford and Gunn, there is Ron Leiberman and Charlotte Rae), a cracking Quincy Jones soundtrack, and a plot with great twists and turns.
From where did you get the inspiration for Gunshine State?
Gunshine State is my attempt to do a quintessential Australian take on heist crime fiction. I also wanted to try and do justice to the shady past of what was once Australia’s premier holiday destination, the faux Miami known as Surfers Paradise, in Queensland, where a chunk of the book is set.
Does your main character—former Australian army driver, ex-bouncer and thief, Gary Chance—have a real life counterpart, or is he completely a spark of your own imagination?
He has no real life counterpart I am aware of, although, I did talk to a couple of ex-Australian army guys to get a sense of what Chance might be like, and his experiences in East Timor and Afghanistan, where he drove trucks. My point was, I wanted an ex-army character who did something relatively routine in the Australian army, if you get what I mean. I didn’t want the character to be ex-SAS or some sort of super soldier.
Did you feel confined by the tropes of the heist genre or was there a way to get outside of them?
The only stipulation of the heist genre I wanted to abide by is that the story’s initial heist had to go wrong, resulting in very bad things happening to my main characters. Otherwise, I tried to mix the plot up as much as possible. Only the reader can tell me whether I have been successful or not.
Do you see Australian crime fiction gaining a higher international profile?
Let’s hope so. I think there is some great crime fiction being published at the moment (some of which I have written about on my site) and it would be great to see it get a wider audience.
Will there be a follow up to Gunshine State, and will the heist go wrong?
There will definitely be a follow up. I have the plot. Now I just need to find the time to write it. And yes, the planned heist did go wrong…about forty years ago.
Thx, Andrew...I appreciate chatting with you and hope Gary Chance manages to keep capering and stay out of prison for the foreseeable future...
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 takes him to Surfers Paradise, Queensland, working for aging standover man, Dennis Curry. Curry runs off-site, non-casino poker games, and wants to rob one of his best customers, a high roller called Freddie Gao.
The job seems straightforward but Curry's crew is anything but. Frank Dormer is a secretive ex-soldier turned private security contractor. Sophia Lekakis is a highly-strung receptionist at the hotel where Gao stays when he visits Surfers Paradise. Amber, Curry's female housemate, is 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...