Review: ‘Pirate Latitudes’ by Michael Crichton

Review: ‘Pirate Latitudes’ by Michael CrichtonPirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
Published by HarperCollins on 2011-11-22
Pages: 400
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Contains an exclusive preview of Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston. In Port Royal, a cutthroat town of taverns, grog shops and bawdy houses, life can end swiftly. But for Captain Edward Hunter, this is a life destined for riches; Spanish gold is there for the taking. And law in the New World is made by those who take it into their own hands.

Jamaica in 1665 is a rough outpost of the English crown, a minor colony holding out against the vast supremacy of the Spanish empire. Port Royal, Jamaica′s capital, a cut-throat town of taverns, grog shops, and bawdy houses, is devoid of London′s luxuries; life here can end swiftly with dysentery or a dagger in your back. But for Captain Edward Hunter it is a life that can also lead to riches, if he abides by the island′s code. In the name of His Majesty King Charles II of England, gold in Spanish hands is gold for the taking. And law in the New World is made by those who take it into their hands.

Word in port is that the Spanish treasure galleon El Trinidad, fresh from New Spain, is stalled in nearby Matanceros harbor awaiting repairs. Heavily fortified, the impregnable Spanish outpost is guarded by the blood-swiller Cazalla, a favorite commander of King Philip IV himself. With the governor′s backing, Hunter assembles a roughneck crew to infiltrate the enemy island and commandeer the galleon, along with its fortune in Spanish gold. The raid is as perilous as the bloody legends of Matanceros suggest, and Hunter will lose more than one man before he finds himself on the island′s shores, where dense jungle and the firepower of Spanish infantry are all that stand between him and the treasure.

With the help of his cunning crew, Hunter hijacks El Trinidad and escapes the deadly clutches of Cazalla, leaving plenty of carnage in his wake. But his troubles have just begun. . . .

I listened to “Pirate Latitudes” as an audio book on a thirteen hour drive to Florida. I’ll preface this review by saying that I’ll just be commenting on the story, style, and characters, basically anything I would talk about in a review of a regular book. I will not be assessing the voice artist nor his performance.

The line between privateer and pirate is pretty small. I had to have my husband explain it to me somewhere in South Carolina. Apparently a pirate is someone who plunders and pillages anyone. A privateer is a pirate who plunders and pillages an enemy of the state. Hunter is a privateer because his piracy is only against the Spanish, who are at war with much of the English owned Caribbean colonies. He’s a pirate, just a legal pirate if that makes any sense. To some, they are the same and that’s what gets Hunter into trouble just when you think his troubles are over.

I’ve always loved pirates and tinkered around with writing a children’s story about pirates several years ago. Picking this up was inevitable. I loved how diverse the supporting characters were — my favorite is Lazue. She’s a cross-dressing pirate who bares her breasts in battle to startle the enemy. Plus, she’s fierce. What’s not to love? There’s also a mute character with super-strength, a crazy Frenchman you’re not sure you can trust, and plenty of other memorable supporting characters. Hunter is a solid main character and fulfilled his role as Captain and privateer quite well but there was something dull about him compared to his rag-tag group of pirates.

Michael Crichton’s assistant found this manuscript after his death in 2008. It was published in 2009. I’m not sure what kind of editing happened or if any happened at all. That, perhaps, is this book’s one downfall. It felt unfinished. The story felt complete, just imperfect. Some important characters felt superficial. More problematic though is that the book just stopped. The story just ended and faded into an historical discussion of the people in the book. The treasure is lost forever and savvy Hunter wastes away into nothing. The only interesting tidbit in this historical discussion is that Lazue is rumored to be Blackbeard’s lover.

I liked “Pirate Latitudes” despite its flaws though. There was plenty of action, mystery, and memorable characters. You just  need to go in knowing that Crichton never had the opportunity to polish his manuscript. It’s definitely an early draft. But I was easily able to see the potential. This would have been a spectacular piece of historical fiction had he been able to polish it.


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