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Pirate Latitudes Mass Market Paperback – September 28, 2010
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“Unabashed fun.” (Cameron Martin, New York Times)
“Offers unexpected turns and plenty of yo ho ho’s.” (Richard Eisenberg, People (3 out of 4 stars))
“It’s not an ironic pirate novel. It’s not a pirate novel with a secret gimmick. It’s simply an entertaining tale filled with crafty privateers, despicable villains, treasure hoards, double crosses and a sea monster. Go figure.” (Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle)
“A lusty, rollicking 17th century adventure…. History as entertainment…. Crichton has done his homework.” (Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today)
“The plot sucks you in like the giant kraken monster that nearly sinks our hero’s galleon.” (Benjamin Svetsky, Entertainment Weekly)
From the Back Cover
“A lusty, rollicking seventeenth-century adventure. . . .History as entertainment.”—USA Today
The Caribbean, 1665. A remote colony of the English Crown, the island of Jamaica holds out against the vast supremacy of the Spanish empire. Port Royal, its capital, is a cutthroat town of taverns, grog shops, and bawdy houses. In this steamy climate there’s a living to be made, a living that can end swiftly by disease—or by dagger. For Captain Charles Hunter, gold in Spanish hands is gold for the taking, and the law of the land rests with those ruthless enough to make it.
Pirate Latitudes is Michael Crichton at his best: a rollicking adventure tale pulsing with relentless action, crackling atmosphere, and heart-pounding suspense.
“Crichton’s great talent was writing books that were virtually impossible to put down. . . . Pirate Latitudes is no exception.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Crichton’s ultimate adventure.”—San Francisco Chronicle
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By Bob Gelms
You know how sometimes you get a gift you had no idea was coming? It's a gift you didn’t know you wanted. The surprise gift turns out to be wonderful, exciting, and it gives you an enormous amount of pleasure, you know? Well that’s what happened to the publishing world and a giant number of readers in 2009.
Michael Crichton had a literary gift far too often nonexistent in a lot of writers. He was, first and foremost, a teller of stories. He could tell stories better than almost anyone. It’s almost like you didn’t read his books, he was in the room telling you the story. He had a limitless imagination. Crichton was the only creative artist to have a #1 TV show, ER (he created it), a #1 movie, Jurassic Park, and a #1 book, Disclosure, all at the same time.
Michael Crichton passed away in 2008. One of his assistants was organizing the papers in Mr. Crichton’s office. When he opened the computer that Crichton used to compose his books he found the surprise gift. There was a completely finished novel that he never talked about and also a partially finished book saved on the computer. The finished book was Pirate Latitudes. It was published in 2009 and sped up the charts. Steven Spielberg secured the film rights and intends to make a movie based on the book.
I have read almost everything Michael Crichton has written but never this one. There it was in the bargain bin for a $1.00. That was my surprise gift. I took it home and didn’t put it down for two days. Even forgot to eat lunch on the second day, LOL. I absolutely loved it.
This is something of an historical novel. The main plot actually happened and the main character, Captain Charles Hunter, is more or less based on the famous pirate Henry Morgan. Captain Hunter is hired by the Governor of Jamaica to plunder a Spanish galleon laden with gold and silver stolen from the inhabitants of South and Central America.
Hunter was a privateer not a pirate. (They convinced themselves there was a difference.) Privateers, like some pirates, were incredibly democratic in how they conducted business. The whole crew shared in the plunder according to his station on the ship so if it was a great haul, everyone got rich. The Captain ruled by election. If the crew wanted another Captain they were given the right to vote on whomever they wanted in the job.
Hunter provisioned his ship in the pirate city of Port Royal, Jamaica. That’s where he got the very colorful crew as well. They were to make way to the Spanish island fortress of Matanceros. It was a Spanish stronghold in the Caribbean, very well defended with huge guns lording over the bay and hundreds of well-trained soldiers. The city was built at the end of the bay with its back to a very large hill. The back of the hill, the other side of the island, was impregnable. It was a sheer vertical cliff.
The galleon was anchored in the bay. The problem was how to get the gold from a place that was unassailable. This is where the story turns into something like thieves robbing a bank in the guise of a pirate story. It’s a caper and you won’t find anything like Captain Jack Sparrow here. This isn’t your kids’ Pirates of the Caribbean. These pirates are violent killers, full of lust, probably sociopaths, cunning and very, very dangerous.
How Captain Hunter solves the problem of separating the gold from the Spanish ship is ingenious. It comes out in the story that his parents brought him to American as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They were pretty well off so they sent him to a new school in Boston, Harvard. There he was taught critical thinking and problem solving using logic learned from Greek writers. He puts all of this to good use.
They set sail. The adventure begins and it’s splendid. They bump into many obstacles, not the least of which is being captured by a Spanish war ship commanded by Hunter’s nemesis who is also commander of the fort at Matanceros. That’s when everything becomes very personal for both men.
As the Brits say, this is a ripping yarn. I’m sad that Michael Crichton is not with us because Captain Hunter could sure use a sequel. Pirate Latitudes does feel a bit rushed at the end and I think that Mr. Crichton probably would have done another polishing draft but this is a mighty entertaining saga and more than worth the price of admission.
It reads like a young adult adventure novel, which isn’t a bad thing. I’m sure many 14-year-old adventurers-to-be will enjoy and have loved it. Crichton fans were thrilled when a last novel was found, no doubt, despite a sea of pirate sailing jingo like ”Mizzen top blown!”
But there is a reason Crichton never released it. And it probably starts with “re” and ends with “write.”
Aside from the well-written plot, a pirate journey to attack a fortified Spanish island and take over a treasure galleon, the thing that impresses is Crichton's trademark: very good research into the subject (pirates, Port Royal, sailing, etc.) that gives authenticity to the story. In fact the epilogue gives some biographical information to flesh out the characters lives after the time of the story. It left me wondering if Crichton had actually researched the lives of living characters and written his story based on their lives. I intend to do some research myself to satisfy my curiosity.
However, the one reason I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 was the ridiculous inclusion of a personal fight between the hero, Capt. Hunter and a Kraken, the mythical giant octopus that attacks his boat. It reminded me of the cartoon scene inserted into the Monty Python movie, Life of Brian. It was totally unnecessary and broke the suspension of disbelief so important to the reading of fiction.
The writing was fine and I enjoyed the characters. The novel was well-researched though the ship and crew must have experienced every pirate cliche in this novel. That's not to say that their experiences weren't enjoyable. There were clever escapes and fights, brawls and duels enough. If you want to read some fine pirate novels, try Sabatini. He's the master.