This book opens dramatically with a description of a major cardiac incident resulting in hospitalization for the author. Thankfully the attack was survivable and we move on rapidly to a description of the rather stressful lifestyle which produced it.
For anyone who doesn't know who he is, Howard Marks a.k.a Mr Nice a.k.a Marco Polo , born in Kenfig Hill, South Wales is one of the world's most notorious and successful drug dealers. In a career which spanned the 1970's and 1980's he moved vast quantities of cannabis around the globe and became one of the most wanted international criminals in the USA. Eventually apprehended in 1988 he served seven years in the infamous Terre Haute Correctional Facility in Indiana. Upon his release Howard left dope-smuggling behind and rapidly transformed himself into a best selling author and media personality. Recently his first book 'Mr Nice' was made into a film starring Rhys Ifans in the title role. Would be viewers in the US will have to wait as it has, as yet, no US distributor. Howard Marks is now regarded as a folk hero by many in Wales and this book finds him exploring his Welsh roots with surprising and fascinating results.
Howard Marks genealogical researches reveal that his great great grandfather was Billy the Kid's brother. He also establishes that he is distantly related to the infamous Welsh smuggler William Owen whose previously unknown autobiography was discovered in 1982. Marks says of him that:- "...his chronicle of scams, acquittals and debauchery would put any modern day smuggler or playboy to shame." Additionally there is a Chicago mob connection. We learn that Howard is related to Willie Bevan Marks. At one point in the book his aunt Afon Wen informs him that:- "...., your great-grandfather Dafydd's brother, became a notorious Chicago gangster, He was Bugs Moran's first lieutenant. I wasn't a bit surprised when you became a famous smuggler. Not a bit"
The book has its more serious and reflective moments. Recalling a subsequently cancelled BBC project to produce a biopic based on his life the author observes that:- "...opinions vary when people consider whether criminals should benefit indirectly from their offensive behaviour." He goes on to point out that:- "I am still making money writing and talking about my past criminal adventures, and I am having a wonderful time." Wherever one stands on this issue I believe that Mr Marks deserves kudos for having raised it and for demonstrating an acute awareness of the moral dilemma which his post incarceration activities pose for many people.
The title 'Two Dragons' reflects the books true theme. The contrast between the Wales that Howard Marks hated as a child and couldn't wait to get away from and the modern Wales which he has returned to. Overall he takes an optimistic view:- "But now, the country is alive. One giant cauldron of musical talent, mysticism and enthusiasm" This view is balanced by a rather stoical, if defiant, observation made elsewhere in the book:-"No doubt the bad times will come again. But we are aware of that and we know ourselves. A few centuries of English force-feeding isn't going to change anything as going through slavery and imprisonment is an integral part of growing up."
In the final chapter we find Howard Marks returning to his former globe-trotting ways. But no longer to facilitate megaton shipments of cannabis. This time he is visiting the former haunts of his boyhood hero Henry Morgan, former buccaneer and Governor of Jamaica. The account of his visit to Henry's final home in Llanrumney, Jamaica is a delight to read . In particular it is fascinating to reflect that a labyrinthine series of caves underneath the site may contain vestiges of Captain Morgan's fabled treasure. Howard is pictured at the site standing next to a large stone inscription which reads simply - 'Cartref' ( home ).
All in all there is so much in this book, and so many further fruitful avenues to explore, that anyone with a love of Welsh history would be foolish to deny themselves the pleasure of reading it. There can be no hesitation in giving the book a five star rating and recommending it as the perfect christmas gift for anyone with a taste for lovable ( and not so lovable ) Welsh rogues.