There must be a group of readers out there that are a sucker for a fabulous book title (or it could be a group of one) but HOW I BECAME THE MR BIG OF PEOPLE SMUGGLING is one of those eye-catching titles that luckily coincides with a terrific story.
We've all done it, or dreamed of it. An adventure, a break from the day to day, and for Nick Smart it seemed like working as a jackaroo on a remote station was the perfect solution. Away from everything, a chance to save some money, maybe even some quiet time to get his head together.
"I drove out of Victoria via Ballarat and Mildura and could not believe how flat and barren the land was. I had never been this far from the city before, this far from the hills and forests of southern Victoria and Tasmania where we spent our family holidays."
* Personal note - taking this route takes you right past our front gate, so I couldn't help but smile, although "barren" is a bit harsh *
But Smart in name and nature, he's capable and despite walking into the oddest station setup ever, he somehow gets his head around the goings on, and finds himself increasingly indispensable to his boss. Which is just as well, because when that boss dies, the running of the station just flows along. With Smart and a colleague in the know "streamlining and expanding" the operation. The storyline does switch backwards and forwards between the present and future - it helps as you know straight away what's gone pear-shaped but not the why or how it plays out.
"A few months, after the wet, and there'd be no trace of a body in a near-new Lexus 4WD under sand in the middle of scrub that stretched unchanged from here to the Gulf."
From the title it's not hard to figure out what the goings on at the station are all about, but the actuality of the operation comes as a bit of a surprise. Big surprise. Laugh out loud surprise at times. It's hard not to like the central character in this book. And the cast of supporting characters - eccentrics, outback blokes in the main - exactly the sorts of people you find knocking around stations in the middle of nowhere. It's hard not to cheer them along as they streamline and improve their smuggling operation. It's impossible not to cheer loudly when they redirect the station's operations. And more than a bit frustrating when things go a bit pear-shaped.
HOW I BECAME THE MR BIG OF PEOPLE SMUGGLING is definitely on the tongue-in-cheek side, but along the way it builds some fabulous characters and a very clever scenario. It puts that into a wonderful sense of the outback, with the beauty as well as the isolation at the forefront. This isn't one just for crime fiction fans, this is a story about an Australia that we seem to be letting slip from our fingers.