A criminal record

At the height of his career Howard Marks was smuggling consignments of up to thirty tons of marijuana, and had contact with organisations as diverse as MI6, the CIA, the IRA and the Mafia. Following a worldwide operation by the Drug Enforcement Agency, he was busted and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison at Terre Haute Penitentiary, Indiana. He was released in April 1995 after serving seven years of his sentence. Told with humour, charm and candour, Mr Nice is his own extraordinary story.

Howard Marks has truly lead an amazing life and I have enjoyed reading his autobiography, born in Kenfig Hill, Wales and raised there until becoming an oxford university student, studying physics, nobody would ever expect him to one day become Britain's most wanted man. The book keeps you attached, always asking yourself what's going to happen next? It seems hard to keep up with his endless aliases, always popping up in the book.

Through his career he meets many different personalities in the smuggling business including Jim McCann an Irishman more often than not drunk and concluding every sentence spoken with foul language, an American named Ernie, Malak a supplier from Bangkok and countless others. The book is quite an interesting read not only in the perspective of Howard Marks' life but the world about him as he so kindly describes in detail the many country areas that he visits and stays within.

The Mr Nice of the title is an adopted false name, and it really does seem to fit. Mr Marks seems to have been one of those people who just happened to be not only in the correct place but also the correct position at the right time. He went to Oxford, and started smoking cannabis at a time when the drug was still seen as an eccentricity, rather than a crime. As a result of his cannabis use, he seems not to have done that well at University but he did get to meet lots of interesting people with his room becoming a drop-in centre for the youth of Oxford.

What comes across throughout the book is that he not only wanted to make money and have a good time, but as a user of the recreational drugs he imported he wanted everyone else to enjoy what he sees as a harmless bit of fun. He was not purely financially motivated and the crimes that he committed were in the course of his business, rather than because he wanted to break the law. I read this with incredulity and absolute fascination for the deviousness that had to be employed bringing this stuff in.

They say that regular cannabis use damages memory function, but this guy has the most amazing recall, and it is the early stories that are the best, the later recollections are a bit melancholy, with him and his wife being arrested and held for extradition to America in a Spanish jail. The saddest thing was that his wife pleaded guilty for something she did not do, to be able to get back to their children, and then could not visit him in jail in America because she had a criminal record.

If you fancy a good story and are fond of autobiographies, then this is a seriously good book. I cannot imagine for one second that the dirtier side of the illegal drugs trade did not come to involve him, but it would seem that he was very divorced from the crime that comes to be associated with all forms of drugs and appears to be a very personable man. It makes for good reading.