The Great Train Robber Whose Partnership with Pablo Escobar turned Britain on to Cocaine
by Wensley Clarkson
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 15 Oct 2020 | Archive Date 27 Jul 2020
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 4 members
We really have an issue with the way some criminals have been portrayed in the media in the past in Britain and The Great Train Robbers are the perfect example of that given they were almost lauded for their ability to pull off their daring deeds. Wensley Clarkson's Secret Narco describes English career-criminal Charlie Wilson in all his sordid glory but they say once you're into that fraternal underworld and the big leagues the only way of leaving is in a casket. After being in and out of prison Charlie moved to Costa Del Sol, Spain; a known route for extensive drug smuggling where he becomes embroiled in the local drug activity. He finally connected and became aligned with notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. It is not a side of life you hear a lot about; we all know it's happening around us every day but we never usually receive such a detailed and fascinating account of a life lived in the fast lane. He was killed by a hitman on his doorstep in 1990 whilst living in Marbella, Spain after a disagreement about drugs. This is a roller-coaster ride through five decades of London's gangland, including a long spell on the Costa del Crime and forays into the deadliest killing fields of all: South America. Meticulously researched, it pulls the reader into Wilson's bizarre, sordid, crime-filled world - one that took him from the mean streets of South London to even harsher prison corridors, and from a quiet life in small-town Canada to the heated, manic, cocaine-fuelled Costa del Sol. Containing interviews with many of Charlie Wilson's former associates it reveals how Wilson was feared by many other criminals; how his love of pretty women almost cost him his life; and how he desperately tried to 'retire', only to discover the inevitable - that gangsters never rest in peace. A superb, exciting read and a book that epitomises the adage ”truth is always stranger than fiction”. Many thanks to Ad Lib for an ARC.
For too ;long there were 2 prevalent myths in Britain that quite wrongly had some pretty ghastly people almost seen as heroic characters. Firstly the Kray Twins were seen as old school Gangsters men of respect ,Robin Hood characters. Thankfully now the reality of a pair of low-rent psychopathic sexual predators has been revealed in certain books. The other was that the Great Train Robbers were a bunch of cheeky chappies who got together for a bit of a caper ,lovable rogues ,the most thuggish and violent of whom was even portrayed laughably wrongly,as we now know,by Phil Collins in "Buster", Wensley Clarkson further explodes the myth and shows that the Train Robbers were an experienced band of brutal thugs used to battering people and stealing to fund their chosen lifestyles. The book is primarily about Charlie Wilson , the old school London Heavy who moved from the old school world of blaggers and pavement artists in London to the more exotic criminal playground of the Costa Del Sol and mixing with an international cast of dangerous villains as drug smuggling and selling overtook armed robbery as the most lucrative crime. Wilson moved in the extremely dangerous circles negotiating with lethal people until finally allying himself with Pablo Escobar, the ultimate, and most feared Narco Baron. This is a fascinating book, not only does it tell Charlie Wilson's story but also the history of crime in Europe as violent criminals from all over the world negotiated and jostled for position in an ultra-violent new world on the streets of Costa Del Sol while the sensible old school villains kept their distance. I believe this book is a re-issue , and possibly updated version, of an earlier Wensley Clarkson book, "Killing Charlie" ,, something to consider if you've already read the earlier book. I hadn't and really enjoyed this one, now up with Killing Goldfinger as my joint favourite Clarkson book, a solid 5 stars. Thanks to Wensley Clarkson, Ad Lib Publishers and Netgalley for the ARC in return for an honest review.
Thank you to netgalley, the publisher and the author, who gave me an e-copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. This book was an entertaining true crime biography of a criminal who must have been very famous in England, but I had never heard of before. He was a mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery, which has had countless books and movies about it, and even that story alone would be enough to make a criminal interesting. Then you add in jailbreaks, and running from the law and now the story is compelling. Finally, Charlie Wilson becomes a very important kingpin in Pablo Escobar's cocaine empire as his final act. Any one of those 3 acts would make a compelling series or movie or book and this book combines them all in a compelling way. The train robbery story has been told many times before but, as I am not as familiar with it, it felt new to me, and the second and first hand quotes from Wilson were interesting. The execution of that heist is bananas, but not as bananas as the jailbreak, about which I do not want to spoil the details. This guy, like Walter White, was addicted to being on the opposite side of the law, and the book makes it clear that he believed the police were corrupt. He never really broke bad though, as he always had a criminal streak, but early in his criminal career, he had a good job at a grocery, and while he was a drug kingpin, posed as a retired gardener type in the aptly nicknamed Costa del Crime in Spain. I would highly recommend this to fans of true crime, or the series Narcos or Breaking Bad, or even anyone who likes biopics of criminals. I could see this being turned into a series easily, if it hasn't been done so already. Anyone who loves capers and living vicariously through criminals (without breaking the law) will enjoy this book.