Typical of Michael Crichton the book is accurate both historically and told in great detail. It's a great read for anyone who likes adventure yarns and period pieces (17th century) not his best, but then as it was published after his death, I wonder if it was fully finished. Maybe it had a ghost writer? (Sorry!!) Well worth reading.
Unless, by some miracle, a full manuscript is found in one of Michael Crichton's old filing cabinets Pirate Latitudes is his swansong. It's a rather frustrating novel, not in any narrative sense, but in its straight-forwardness and adolescent attitude. Apparently Crichton had been working on this novel as far back as the late 70s, but even then he'd be about 36 years old, yet it has the quality of a writer who is still learning to properly define himself. Perhaps this is why he never had it published while he was alive - it just feels like it isn't refined enough yet.
In 1665, on the island of Jamaica, Captain Hunter (obvious subtext right there already) gathers together a bunch of rogues to launch an attack on a remote island fortress operated by a sadistic Spaniard, and steal his treasure. Some live, some die, some double-cross, many cannons send balls back and forth, and a lot of wood is splintered. It's never once boring, however some little trims could be made here and there. Crichton is always good for well-researched details, but not all of it utterly relevant. What Pirate Latitudes lacks is a social commentary or ironic message. It doesn't HAVE to feature anything like this, but from Crichton I've come to expect more.
As I said, you WILL have fun reading this novel, even if the deflating epilogue ends it on a downer. Crichton's best it ain't. His epitaph, like it or not, it shall remain.
I so wanted this to be a great book, Crichton is such an excellent author and who can turn down a book on pirates? But every page i turned i looked fr the story to get better and it didnt, it was wooden, 1 dimensional, there was no taking the reader along and allowing them to become one with the period and the sounds and sights and smells, it was just words on a page. I finished the book really fast, normally the sign of a good book, but in this case a sign that i was almost scan reading in the vague hope that something would happen and something would improve.
Do you like fast-paced historical adventures? Do you like pirates? If (like me) you answered yes to both questions, this book is definitely for you. If you answered yes to only one of the questions, it's probably still worth trying for 20-30 pages to see if it sucks you in. If you answered no to both, well, then this book isn't for you. Pulled off the hard drive of the deceased Crichton, this posthumous adventure is the first book of his I've read and it's a surprisingly good update on the swashbuckling pirate yarns popularized by Rafael Sabatini back in the 1910s and 20s (Captain Blood and The Sea-Hawk being the most famous). To be sure, Crichton has amped up the violence, sex, villainy, and gadgetry to meet the expectations of modern audiences, but at the core, it's an old-fashioned adventure.
The story takes place in the Caribbean of the 1660s, during a time when England and Spain had a very shaky peace treaty in place. However, the British privateers who previously held letters of marque allowing them to attack Spanish ships in the name of the Empire were somewhat disinclined to be bound by this treaty. The most daring and dangerous of these men is the Charles Hunter, who is the kind of daring, dashing, charismatic, cunning, witty, hunky pirate whom we all wish we could be. The British governor of Jamaica enlists Hunter in a scheme to steal a massive shipment of gold from an impregnable Spanish fortress commanded by a true sadist. Where it gets a little more interesting than a standard pirate tale (rather more like a heist film or Dirty Dozen war ensemble film), is that Hunter needs to assemble a special crew for this job. There's the wheelman (master sailor/pilot), the bruiser (a mute Moor), the explosives expert (a Jewish alchemist), the cold-blooded killer (French, naturally), and the sniper (a transvestite) to supplement Hunter's own considerable skills.
Once this piratical A-Team is assembled, Hunter leads them on the bold raid, dispatching all manner of obstacles and setbacks along the way. As with a lot of modern historical fiction, Crichton weaves in all kinds of interesting period details without it becoming too much of a lecture or diverting from all the killing that goes on throughout the book. And one hardly needs to add that there's a beautiful damsel in distress thrown into the mix, not to mention a twist or two in the ending. Is this fine writing or great literature? Of course not -- but it is an example of masterful storytelling and pacing that's tons of fun.
I really enjoyed this even though the basic premise is familiar to many. In the 1660s our hero Captain Hunter puts together a specialist crew of privateers to steal (sorry…capture) a spanish galleon loaded with bullion from an impregnable fortress commanded by a ruthless enemy. Events start in Port Royal with plenty of local colour, baudy wenches, drunken louts, the cynical governer and his priggish deputy. While the planning goes well, they are almost immediately captured at sea by their foe. It doesn’t stop the adventure though.
As with Jurrasic Park, the chapters tend towards the episodical, and it is old fashioned and almost dickensian in construct. Again it tends towards old school in that all the action is seen from the third person perspective of Hunter. There are some great Mc Gyver moments when by necessity he and his crew invent slow burning fuses, grenades and grappling hooks for the task ahead. There is validity to other reviewers' criticism in that he was probably riding the coat tales of the Pirates of the Carribean buzz, but the violence and sex portrayed would be more suited to Tarentino than Bruckheimer, particularly the glorious revenge scenes. Its also sexist and simplistic in that he makes multiple references to "giggling" whores. I find it hard to imagine that sex workers got that big a kick out of the casual violence, an extra floren thrown their way or other brothel activity.
To restate, the story is quite linear, with few twists or any great character development, but then Creighton’s other books are hardly literary masterpieces by comparison. And it’s a hell of a better read than State Of Fear. I give it 4 rather than 3 because it did exactly what it set out to do, keep me engaged and entertained, even if it is simplistic pulp.
This book is NOT what I will remember the late Michael Crichton by. He was an excellent writer, excelling in popularized science techno-thrillers but also fully capable of producing period dramas of high quality, such as The Great Train Robbery. Having read that gem recently, I can attest that PIRATE LATITUDES was either NOT written by Michael Crichton or was only a rough script - and was then polished and hastily packaged as a novel.
True, Michael Crichton's main focus had always been the story, often at the expense of his characters. However, the characters here are so crudely and halfheartedly developed that I could not find myself caring for any of them, including Cpt. Hunter, the main hero. The story does go from one cliffhanger to the next (in a James Rollins fashion) and it will keep you turning pages. Nevertheless, it is writing-an-action-novel-by-the-numbers: the story never managed to get a hold on me.
Where is Crichton's signature obsessive research that used to turn long-held misconceptions on their head? Where is his attention to obscure details and little-known scientific facts with big impact? Where is his ability to entertain and educate at the same time? After the sad cases of Frank Herbert and Robert Ludlum, Crichton's heirs are attempting to exploit his fans as well. He did not deserve this.