Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton, who died in 2008, was known primarily for such high-tech thrillers as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain. This new novel, found in manuscript form among his papers, will come as a bit of a surprise to many of his fans. It is, of all things, a pirate novel.
Set in 1665, it tells the story of Captain Charles Hunter, a privateer who’s hired by the governor of Jamaica’s Port Royal to steal a Spanish galleon and its cargo of gold treasure. Don’t expect to see Jack Sparrow in this story of pirates of the Caribbean, though: Crichton doesn’t play his pirates for laughs.
And this is no typical pirate adventure, either: it’s actually a caper novel posing as a high-seas adventure. All the key caper-novel elements are here: the target, the mastermind, the plan, the motley crew, the ruthless villain, the gadgets, the twist, and the turncoat.
Crichton keeps us in a constant state of suspense, never revealing quite what his hero, Captain Hunter, has up his sleeve, and the novel ends most unexpectedly. Pirate fans will love the book for its flashy characters and historical authenticity.
Crime fans will enjoy the caper-novel structure and the way the author keeps them on their toes. If this really is Crichton’s final book, it’s a splendid send-off: something new, different, and daring. —David Pitt, Booklist.
About Michael Crichton:
Michael Crichton was born in Chicago in 1942. His novels include Next, State of Fear, Prey, Timeline, Jurassic Park, and The Andromeda Strain. He was also the creator of the television series ER. One of the most popular writers in the world, his books have been made into thirteen films, and translated in thirty-six languages.
Review by FCEtier:
Have you ever been to a party and met lots of people in a short period of time? Then you got home and said, “There were several really interesting people there! It sure would have been nice to get to know them a bit better.” That’s how I felt after this quick and enthralling read. I was eager to get into the story and Crichton, in his last completed novel, made it easy.
The story begins with a public hanging and escalates with the arrival of the merchantman Godspeed. The ship brings new characters and news of events that lead to adventure, violence, destruction, romance and mystery on the high seas of the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Interesting, intimidating and charming personalities appear in surprising people as diverse as privateers, politicians, courtesans, pirates, whores, transvestites, executioners and Harvard graduates!
Crichton continues his clever connections with places and people. An island in this novel repeats the name of an island from The Lost World and a ship captain shares the author’s alma mater. The lookout for the expedition, a sailor with incredible vision, is named “Lazue” which is a bastardization of the French term “les yeux” for “eyes.” We meet an executioner named Sanson (a la “Manson”) and visit a place that’s name means “slaughter” A willing reader is quickly caught up in the whirlwind action and can easily overlook the lack of character development, “Ok, he’s a pirate, and she’s a whore. Get on with the story!”
And what an interesting story it is! Our would-be hero sails off with a hand-picked crew to face his demons and foes. Part of his mission is to identify just who it is that he is up against in a romantic world of pirates and politicians where betrayal and loyalty walk hand-in-hand. How can you be a conquerer and return home a hero if you aren’t sure of your enemy? Our protagonist (is he a privateer or a pirate?) sets out on his mission financed by important people to deal with The Black Ship, Monkey Bay, The Mouth of the Dragon and a foreboding fortress on the island of Mantanceros.
Crichton’s fans have come to expect enlightenment in each of his books whether it is nano technology, gene splicing, poisonous politics, or reverse sex discrimination. They won’t be disappointed with Pirate Latitudes’s monographs on 17th century weaponry, sailing ships, and navigation. Also included is an explanation of the posturing used by sailors in which they would stand up straight on the bow with their arms extended, back to the wind (remember that Decaprio/Winslet scene inTitanic?). If the characters are not developed enough to suit the discriminating reader, then surely the setting will satisfy. Establishments with names like “The Black Bear”, “Queen’s Arms”, “The Yellow Scamp” and “The Blue Goat” and their seedy characteristics place the reader right there with the characters. Attention is also given to oppressively hot jungles, mosquitoes, and foreboding geography.