A swashbuckling tale of privateering almost certainly headed for Hollywood's silver screen!
Feb 19, 2010
Crichton's posthumously published tale opens in 1665 Port Royal, Jamaica - the Caribbean equivalent of the cut-throat, brutal, lawless midwest in 18th century USA where "might was right" and the fastest shooter had his way. "Pirate Latitudes" revolves around Captain Hunter, an English pirate by any name, but more euphemistically called a "privateer" by the English authorities in order to minimize likely diplomatic dust-ups between King Charles II of England and King Philip of Spain who are nominally at peace with one another under a recent and very tenuous treaty. Hunter's objective is a rich Spanish galleon loaded with gold harboured in a bay on the isle of Matanceros (meaning "slaughter" in Spanish) under the watchful eyes of Cazalla, the psychopathic commander of the local fort considered to be absolutely impregnable. To attempt this particular act of piracy is considered by all and sundry to be the lunatic act of a sailor bent on suicide!
The story is almost breathless in its pacing and page-turning ferocity ... naval battles, executions, swordplay, hot and heavy, bodice-ripping womanizing, heroics, impossible rescues and feats of derring-do, double-crosses, diplomatic skulduggery, 17th century politics, fierce tropical storms, shipwrecks, cannibals and even a ferocious attack by an undersea kraken.
But, even as all this action is happening, Crichton manages to drop some true pearls of atmosphere in the development of the 17th century background - international politics; the pragmatic recognition of the subtle distinction between "privateering" and "piracy"; the techniques of manning and sailing a schooner; the exquisite intricacies of aiming, firing and reloading a cannon on a moving warship with the intention of hitting a moving target; the lawlessness of a British colonial outpost ostensibly under colonial rule but far removed from the immediate laws of London and King Charles II's government and much, much more. Far from detracting from the story, these expository essays or sidebars flesh out the world in which Captain Hunter lives. Indeed, they lend a definite air of realism to a story which might otherwise fall over the edge of the cliff of being pure outlandish Hollywood!
Chrichton is a master of the page-turning thriller and I especially appreciate a couple things about his books. First, his use of "evidence" that has the appearance of items in the real world - newspaper articles, scientific journal articles, etc - makes his stories very believable. Second, his extensive research gives the reader insights into technical fields that they would not otherwise possess. But this book was disappointing. It did not have the crisp transitions … more
Everything you have come to expect revolving around the mythology of pirates is in here: raping (a lot of raping), privateering, sea battle cannons, sword fights (only one or two) and even the damn Kraken. But it all adds up to very little. These little snippets and scenes come together to form a story that more as an NC-17 version of Pirates of the Caribbean, rather than an original and engaging Crichton book. And let me … more