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Average: 2 (1 vote)

2labz's picture
Written on Monday, November 21, 2016
Pros: action galore
Cons: dangling plot threads, gratuitous sex scenes, paper-thin characters, stereotypes galore

The blurb on the inside back cover claims that Michael Crichton's posthumously-published Pirate Latitudes was "discovered as a complete manuscript in his files after his death in 2008." Given that Crichton had been catapulted to the status of "sure thing" with the success of 1990's Jurassic Park, one can only imagine the glee of HarperCollins, not to mention the Crichton estate. Rumor has it, in fact, that there's another unpublished MS in the mill; a "techno-thriller." Oh, joy. There's certainly not much "techno-" to Pirate Latitudes, though there's plenty of "thriller" (if you like that kind of thing...)

The year is 1665; the setting, Jamaica. A tiny English outpost cowering at the doorstep of the Spanish Main, Jamaica is governed for H. R. H. Charles II by Sir James Almont. When not distracted by Jamaica's wretched climate or his gout, the Guv schemes endlessly to fatten the King's coffers and, of course, his own. His chief source of income is a cut from the booty collected by yo-ho-hos preying on the Spanish treasure ships, ships carrying gold and jewels looted from the Americas back to Europe. No, they're not pirates, they're privateers: they have official sanction for their raids.

The most successful privateer in Almont's stable is Massachusetts-born Charles Hunter: gentleman, Harvard graduate, captain of the sloop Cassandra, and lady-killer of the first order. When passengers on a newly-arrived English ship describe the "fearsome Spanish galleon" that failed to attack them, Almont realizes that the landlubbers really saw a stranded treasure ship. Within hours, Hunter has assembled a crew to attack the ship; the fact that it is in the well-nigh impregnable harbor of Matanceros notwithstanding. Ever since Cazalla, the brutish commander of the Spanish fort at Matanceros, murdered his brother; Hunter's been plotting his demise...

So Captain Hunter assembles his motley crew of pirates... errr, privateers: a dapper French executioner, a giant mute, a mad scientist, a woman-in-reverse-drag, and the rest. And they set out aboard Cassandra to take Cazalla, the fort at Matanceros, and the ship it protects. Before departure, though, Hunter finds time to take the pleasure of the wife of Sir James's newly-arrived secretary. He is a lady-killer, after all, and who knows how long it will be before he has a chance to slake his carnal thirst again? Once at sea, Hunter and his merry men (and woman) will buckle many a swash and shiver many a timber, and the seas will run red with blood: 1665 turned was a very good year to be a shark in the Caribbean.

As in just about everything he wrote, Michael Crichton liberally sprinkled Pirate Latitudes with factoids about the period and the technology: readers will absorb lots about shipboard life for the crew, as well as the art of war circa the mid-1660s. He did the same with modern aircraft in Airframe and with the crude beginnings of cloning and DNA sequencing in Jurassic Park. You'll get no argument here, Crichton has always been pretty good at simplifying science for the masses.

Of course, his purpose in Pirate Latitudes is to entertain readers, not to give them an education in seventeenth-century seafaring and weaponry. To that end, Crichton's manuscript is a swashbuckler chock full of stereotypical characters and predictable action. Sure, Crichton threw in a few twists (mostly casting Hunter in the role of tactical savant) but the book can best be described as "by-the-numbers"; where the numbers call for non-stop action and violence with an occasional gratuitous sex scene to "keep things interesting."

Despite the cover blurb's claim that the manuscript was "finished," it's painfully clear that Pirate Latitudes was anything but. For instance, several characters are so poorly developed that their participation in the climactic scenes make no sense. The plot reads more like a pastiche of treatments for a one-hour television drama about pirates; action scenes loosely strung together by a skimpy narrative. There's just not much to this book; a slim 300-page volume. Had Crichton actually finished it and worked with the editorial staff, I suspect it would have been an above average novel; in its published form it doesn't even reach average. Skip this one.

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2labz doesn't recommend Pirate Latitudes. Michael Crichton

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