News / Culture

Crime does pay for Brunswick author

Andrew Nette’s new novel explores the aftermath of the Great Bookie Robbery

Orphan Road is Andrew Nette’s third novel and is set in Melbourne and Philadelphia.

Mark Phillips
Wednesday, June 28, 2023

FOR Brunswick crime author Andrew Nette, writing his latest novel began at the end.

As with his previous two crime novels, Nette wrote the final chapter of his new book, Orphan Road, first. 

It’s a back to front methodology that has served Nette well. 

“I always have to have a basic outline in my head, and actually, the minimum I have to have is an ending, a final chapter,” Nette said over a coffee at a café in Albert Street recently. 

“I’ve done three novels now, and they all start with the final chapter. I come up with a really clear last image, it’s almost like I write the book up to that image.” 

The technique seems to work. Orphan Road is a fast-paced story that moves from Melbourne to Philadelphia and back to Melbourne again as the central character, small-time thief Gary Chance, tries to outwit other crooks who are all after a mythical haul of diamonds from a famous heist. 

Written in 2020 and 2021 and published by US-based Down & Out Books, it will be launched at Brunswick Bound bookshop in Sydney Road on July 11 by fellow novelist Jock Serong. 

Orphan Road is the second of Nette’s novels to feature Gary Chance, who first appeared in his 2016 predecessor, Gunshine State (his debut novel, Ghost Money, was published in 2015). 

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The plot of Orphan Road uses as its springboard a true story: the famous Great Bookie Robbery of 1976. Decades later, a Melbourne strip club owner enlists Chance’s help to track down a stash of uncut South African diamonds that were supposedly stolen as well as $3 million in cash. 

Needless to say, there are plenty of twists and turns across the book’s 205 pages. 

“I have a real love of heist novels, heist fiction and heist films,” says Nette. 

“What I love about them is that the heist always goes wrong. Whether it’s the actual mechanics of the heist goes wrong, or as more often is the case, something goes wrong afterwards, or the criminals fall out amongst themselves – the heist almost always goes wrong. 

“So I thought it would be interesting to put that idea in terms of what is certainly Melbourne’s and arguably one of Australia’s greatest heists that went right but then went wrong, which was the Great Bookie Robbery in 1976.” 

Left: a newspaper front page from the day after the Great Bookie Robbery; right: the cover of Orphan Road. Images from Pulp Curry.

Nette, 57, has lived in Brunswick for 21 years with his partner and daughter, and has worked as a journalist, an academic, a communications officer and a full-time writer. His love of crime and noir fiction was inherited from his father, an avid reader of crime, spy and western novels who bequeathed his book collection to his son. 

Although he doesn’t categorise his own writing as pulp fiction, Nette has become a world expert on this often-derided genre since writing his PhD about Australia’s pulp fiction heyday of the 1950s through to the 1970s. 

He has authored and edited several anthologies about the genre, and is an in-demand non-fiction writer in addition to his fiction. 

Nette is on a mission to have pulp fiction taken seriously and says the Australian master of the genre, Alan Yates, who mainly wrote under the nom-de-plume of Carter Brown deserves long over-due recognition. 

Under the Carter Brown persona, Yates wrote 215 novels which were published in 27 different languages and sold hundreds of thousands of copies around the world, but he is barely known in Australia. 

Fuelled by amphetamines, Yates, who died in 1985, churned out several crime novels a year, usually set in the US, with titles like The Wench is Wicked, Blonde on a Broomstick, W.H.O.R.E!, A Murderer Among Us, and A Bullet for my Baby. The books had equally garish and much-mimicked cover art by Robert McGinnis.

“I’m a very fast nonfiction writer, and I’m a slow fiction writer.”

“Carter Brown actually is the most commercially successful Australian author, locally and internationally, until 2000, period,” Nette says. 

“But he was never reviewed and was always pretty much marginalised from Australian literary discussion … I have this fascination about this massive body of postwar fiction and nonfiction, that was read by huge numbers of people, and was actually very influential, but is not talked about anywhere. 

“Literature and high culture are conscious of themselves as something important. Pulp publishing didn’t consider themselves this. They didn’t think about what posterity would think about them.  

“So its history is kind of hidden, and I’m very interested in all kinds of hidden cultural histories like that.” 

As for future writing projects, Nette has several non-fiction works on the go as well as a possible historical crime trilogy set in Melbourne. 

“I’m a very fast nonfiction writer, and I’m a slow fiction writer,” he says. 

“My last novel, Gunshine State came out in 2016, and in the period in between, I think I’ve done about five non-fiction books. 

“I’m a slow fiction writer and I want to get faster.” 

Orphan Road will be launched at Brunswick Bound, 316 Sydney Road, at 6.30pm on Tuesday, July 11, by writer Jock Serong.