Four women who range in age from 60 to 87 decide they have nothing left to lose in lives which have treated them poorly. Susan, a housewife for the majority of her life, finds she’s been betrayed by her humdrum accountant husband who harbours secret passions. Her life-long friend Julie is forced to work a series of menial jobs after having been betrayed by a younger lover. Grandmother Jill spends her time desperately trying to raise funds for an operation to save her grandson’s life. Former showgirl Ethel Merriman is wasting away in a retirement home with people who don’t appreciate her bawdy humour. These women have been defeated by life, but decide it’s time to get their own back by staging a bank heist and running for the border. This is a high-speed comedic chase novel which shows women entering their later years misbehaving in the most fantastic way.
Fans of author John Niven’s writing which has traditionally contained an overriding sense of masculinity will be interested to read the same thrilling brashness applied to a group of aging women. The elderly character of Ethel in particular is as foul-mouthed and sexually-driven as they come. She disarms men with her sexual suggestiveness and sings smutty rugby songs while munching on hard sweets in her wheelchair. What’s more Niven shows a sympathetic feeling for the ways female friendships can morph and change over an expanse of time: “lifelong friendships are curious things – the yardsticks by which we often measure ourselves. They were deep pools where there were tensions, currents and strange eddies that it was best to steer clear of. But, at the end of the day and all that, here they were, both turning sixty this year.” Buried secrets and resentments from Susan and Julie’s pass emerge over the course of their frantic attempt to flee through France.
Barrelling after the women on the run is a hefty flatulent detective named Boscombe who seems the embodiment of the crass, reactionary British male. There is a lot of humour at his expense while his poor suffering partner and chief back in Britain can only shake their heads in embarrassment. There is something incredibly satisfying about reading the adventures of these women as they charge through a traditionally male landscape thwarting policemen, stuck-up hotel managers, sleazy aging playboys and dangerous gangsters along the way. The title refers to the final big heist robbers decide to pull off before retiring from crime, but after the exuberance of their stunt it’s like these aging women are just getting their start late in life. This is the female answer to the 1979 geriatric caper film Going in Style. “The Sunshine Cruise Company” enthusiastically smashes stereotypes of women heading into retirement and it’s a funny fast-paced thriller.