Tuesday, June 21, 2011

McVillain: The Man Who Got Away

David McMillan is one of those rare individuals whose life story sounds so unbelievable that it can’t possibly be true. I first heard of him when he was the subject of one of Channels 9’s successful ‘true’ crime stories; Underbelly. McMillan’s story was called The Man Who Got Away. After seeing the show and reading up a little bit about the man I realised that I had been aware of a number of episodes in his life, they were usually the headlines in newspapers.

McVillain: The Man Who Got Away covers David McMillan’s life from his birth in 1956 up until his imprisonment for drug smuggling in 1982. It could be argued that his life after that is even more bizarre. He remains the only Westerner to have ever successfully escaped from Bangkok’s notorious Klong Prem prison (also known as the ‘Bangkok Hilton’) and then he had some incredible adventures in the sub continent. He later wrote about his escape from Klong Prem in the book ‘Escape’.

McVillain: The Man Who Got Away details his earlier escapades and explains why a bright and charismatic young man raised in Melbourne’s suburbs became a notorious drug runner. David McMillan was intelligent, precocious and charming. He wanted wealth and all the trappings of it, but did not want to work for it. It’s not surprising that he got involved with the world of international drug smuggling. By the time he was in his early twenties he had already made and lost a number of fortunes. The book covers the schemes, the near misses, the successes and the people that David met along the way.

It was a light and entertaining read. I like reading about people whose lives are stranger than fiction and I also enjoy capers. David McMillan is on the money for both of those. He apparently plans a series of books about his extraordinary life and this is the first, that’s good news, because it left me wanting to know more. If I were McMillan I’d hire a ghost writer for the next one (the names Adam Shand, Andrew Rule and John Silvester immediately spring to mind) as while the smuggler is competent enough, he loses focus at times and the scenes don’t leap off the page the way they should. He also failed to adequately explain his relationship with the love of his life Clelia Vigano (who tragically died in a fire in Fairlea Women’s prison in 1982) so that the reader never really gets how close the two were or why he was so desperately in love with her.

David McMillan is almost like Australia’s answer to Henri ‘Papillon’ Charriere. The book has a few flaws, but is well worth the price and time well spent.

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