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Marching Powder by Rusty Young book review

Marching Powder by Rusty Young – A thrilling ride into prison hell

Marching Powder by Rusty Young proves to be a fascinating and realistic account of the world of a convicted drug smuggler. If you’re ready to delve into life in a third-world prison, give this book a go.


Set in 1995, the book follows the true story of British tourist Thomas McFadden who risked it all for some quick money. He was caught flying out of Bolivia with more than 5 kilograms of cocaine strapped to his body and was thrown in to one of the countries harshest prisons in San Pedro – his fate hanging in the balance. Bribery and corruption are soon the name of the game for Thomas, as he fights to keep his life from being taken not only by the firing squad, but from other inmates, guards and even the prison General.

Parallels to current affairs

With the lives of the two Australian convicted drug smugglers facing the same uncertainty, the story has even more depth. Being powerless against authority and hoping for release parallel the Bali Nine duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Just like Chan and Sukumaran, life behind bars changes Thomas as he devotes his time to helping the inmates around him. The book really hits home how high the stakes are in drug smuggling and how quickly convicted drug mules are swept up into the judicial system, seemingly powerless. Chan and Sukumaran have been fighting for their lives with appeal after appeal for months, but their cases seem to be marching ever closer to the end. Marching Powder explores this relentless march.

Writing style 

Marching Powder is unique as it is written from the perspective of the antagonist, throwing the reader right into the action and giving them a taste of what its like first hand in a third-world prison. The book depicts life inside the prison so well you almost expect to look up and be there. In a world where drug trafficking and abuse are becoming an increasing problem, this story provides a true account of the harsh reality of those who end up in prison and consequences of getting caught. However, some parts seem a bit too far-fetched and seem to air closer to fiction, particularly towards the end of the book when Thomas recounts his time in a maximum security prison. Being written from a personal narrative perspective sacrifices independent authority but does add colour and thrill to the story.


Overall I think the book is a solid performer and it’s definitely worth a read. I found it hard to put down and it takes the reader on a thrilling and emotional rollercoaster ride through the prison underworld that is only usually seen from an outsider perspective. While the first person narrative style can be a bit much at times, it makes up for it in the journey it takes you on – deep into the depths of a prison hell.

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