MIDNIGHT EXPRESS by Billy with William Hoffer Hayes
Kirkus Star


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First-rate account of five years in a Turkish prison. Attempting to smuggle hashish out of Turkey, Billy Hayes was apprehended and confined in Sagmalcilar prison, Istanbul. It was October 1970 and the US had clamped down on Turkish heroin trafficking. The Turks countered by using Billy as a showpiece: as the first American caught he had a certain cachet--and ultimately a longer sentence. Assigned to the foreigners' kogus--a stinking cellblock--he went in green (""Hey, it's pretty nice here"") but changed his mind directly: everything was Turk-mali, out of order. Beatings were standard, rules were enforced arbitrarily, the pecking order favored murderers. Waking up to the morning hymn of spitting and hacking, let down repeatedly by circumstances and naivete, he settled in reluctantly, expecting a quick release. Hayes describes the deadly routine with sensitivity--even a stronger cup of tea is noted. As the weeks stretched to months and years, Billy worked for a legal release. Although he toyed with the idea of escape, he never acted seriously until his sentence of 33 months was upped to 30 years. No longer willing to wait for the ""legal local,"" he started planning for the midnight express. He's 28 by now, a five-year veteran, able to mastermind his own escape; transferring to another prison, he discards his hothead image and plays it cool. The actual breakout--exciting and improbable with snafus all along--is a classic suspense story, already signed for the screen. Express all the way.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Dutton