- Books, Literature, and Writing
Pirate Latitudes: A Review of Michael Crichton’s Final Novel
If You Enjoy a Good Pirate Yarn, Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes Has it All.
Published posthumously, Pirate Latitudes was one of two manuscripts discovered on Crichton's computer after his death, the other being the recently published novel Micro. For years Crichton had spoken of a project he was working on revolving around Jamaica and the Caribbean. From all indications, Pirate Latitudes is the project he was alluding to. For readers fascinated by the subject of pirates, particularly the pirates of the Spanish Main—the old Caribbean of the 17th century— this novel is bound to satisfy. Pirate Latitudes is a rousing pirate tale based on a composite of historical characters Crichton meticulously researched. Like all of the author's novels, Pirate Latitudes is a sizzling page turner moving at a break neck pace. Beyond the plot itself, which contains all the elements of a great adventure story, the novel features amazing nuggets of information on the maritime practices of the period, British and Spanish colonial history, and even harrowing descriptions of the indigenous people of the Caribbean and their cultural practices.
The protagonist of the novel is Captain Edward Hunter, a British privateer based out of Port Royal who carries a reputation for having plundered many a Spanish galleon in his time. Together with Sir James Altmont, governor of Jamaica, Hunter forms a plan to raid and capture one of the famed “Treasure Galleons” that transport gold and silver between the New World and the Spain. In order to accomplish this task, Hunter and his crew will will have to overcome a myriad of challenges, not least of which is defeating Cazalla, the sadistic Spanish captain who commands the island fortress of Matanceros.
What sets Pirate Latitudes apart from the typical pirate adventure novel is the author’s keen attention to historical detail. Crichton’s magic as a storyteller to large extent hinges upon his ability to explain complex scientific and technical subjects in a manner acessible to the average reader. Pirate Latitudes does not disappoint in this respect, as the novel is chock full of intriguing tidbits of nautical lore, geography, and history. In the course of the novel Crichton explores the various methods pirates had developed to predict weather at sea, navigate rocky shoals, and even construct rudimentary hand grenades.
As the plot unfolds, the author masterfully reconstructs the Caribbean world of the 17th century skillfully illuminating the ironies and intricacies of British colonial rule, effectively depicting the disconnect between London’s obtuse view of its New World colonies versus the actual, everyday, realities faced by its administrators and citizens struggling to prosper and survive in the dangerous, competitive, environment of the Spanish Main. A century later the very same themes would come into sharp focus in the Britain’s North American colonies as the Crown’s policies and attitudes helped fuel the American Revolution.
In 2009 Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks Studios announced that they would be adapting Pirate Latitudes into a film. Spielberg is a great admirer of Crichton’s work and has previously brought two of the author’s novels to film—Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Currently, the project is still in development. In the wake of Disney’s successful Pirate’s of the Caribbean series, I can only imagine that Spielberg’s version of Pirate Latitudes will find an eager audience.
My only disappointment in reading Pirate Latitudes was that it had to end. It was truly one of Crichton’s classic adventure novels and left me craving more. Sadly, with the author’s passing, Pirate Latitudes will be Michael Crichton’s parting gift to us all.