Book Review: Mr Nice by Howard Marks

There’s something oddly appealing about being a criminal, an outlaw, surviving on your wits and living on the fringes of society, its why despite having read lots of negative stuff about them and some of their actions I still find the idea of motorcycle gangs kind of cool.

Sons of Anarchy.

Hoard Marks’ autobiography definitely makes the life of an international drug dealer seem jolly good fun.

Marks was a boy from South Wales who’s intelligence got him into Balliol College in Oxford in the mid 60s. He quickly immersed himself in the peace-and-love times, and became a habitual pot smoker.

Having graduated and bored with his life, Marks became a pot smuggler and quite a successful one. Over his career he would become involved with a range of weird characters and would develop ties with MI6, the Mafia, the IRA and the Yakuza. From Pakistan and Lebanon he’d smuggle weed around the world, he was arrested and imprisoned in the UK and attempted to go straight but boredom and his flamboyant lifestyle meant he soon tired of this and returned to drug running.

He was imprisoned again in the 1990s in the USA until he was released in mid 90s when he penned his autobiography and became something of a cult figure and sort of folk hero.

The reason for this is clear, Marks seems to be an incredibly charming bloke and writes with wit and intelligence. Despite the murky world he gets involved with Marks remains quite lighthearted, and its only really the section that documents his time in prison that things get a little serious.

It makes drug smuggling seem like quite a fun way of making a living, although one imagines that its not quite as relaxed now as it was when Marks was breaking new ground in the business in the 60s. Then it appeared to be a business which involved Marks and his fellow Oxford grads who were bored and looking for thrills, part of their drive to do so being their belief that pot should be legal.

Even when involved with an unhinged member of the IRA its still a rather shambolic world of ingenious scheming and capers exploiting custom loopholes. Marks adopts countless aliases and uses his personal charm to swing deals and make connections. There’s a real fun, freewheeling feel to their first few scams, but there is a creeping edge of paranoia and tension as the forces of the law begin to circle.

Marks uses the book to put across his views regarding drug laws and the prison system, and while biased there’s a lot of sense in his views. One can’t help feeling that had pot been legalized back then it would have been a lot better in the long run and stopped the shadier, more violent elements who would later gravitate towards the smuggling and selling of the narcotic.

It sags a little at the middle, but it generally keeps up the pace and is entertaining throughout. Marks’ life of jetsetting to exotic locations and meeting with odd, eccentric characters means there’s no shortage of funny anecdotes and interesting asides.

Verdict: An entertaining and well written autobiography which benefits from a clever and charismatic narrator. Be warned it might make you consider running drugs as a job. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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