Michael Crichton’s latest novel, Pirate Latitudes, took up one marathon reading session this weekend. It was, to be cliched, unputdownable.
The blurb reads:
An irresistible adventure of swashbuckling pirates in the New World from one of the best-loved and bestselling authors of all time.
Jamaica, in 1655 a lone outpost of British power amid Spanish waters in the sun-baked Caribbean. Its capital, Port Roayl, a cutthroat town of taverns, grog shops, and bawdy houses – the last place imaginable fron which to launch an attack on a nearby Spanish stronghold. Yet that is exactly what renowned privateer Captain Charles Hunter plans to do, with the connivance of Charles II’s ruling governor, Sir James Almont.
The target is Matanceros, guarded by the bloodthirsty Cazalla, and considered impregnable with its gun emplacements and sheer cliffs. Hunter’s crew of buccaneers must battle not only the Spanish fleet but other deadly perils – raging hurricanes, canibal tribes, even sea monsters. But if his ragtag crew succeeds, they will make not only history … but a fortune in gold.
The story is one worthy of Allan Quatermain – the protagonist and his faithful crew face one danger after another. They face sea battles with the enemy, a perilous climb up a sheer sea-facing cliff, an encounter with a deadly snake, a gun-battle, a swordfight, more sea battles, deadly storms, a kraken attack, internal intrigue and death sentences before finally escaping the noose and wreaking vengeance on their enemies.
The narrative is fast-paced, the research meticulous and the descriptions staggering in their power – you can smell the fetid streets of Port Royal, feel the oppressive heat of the tropics, hear the din of battle and smell the gunpowder. The book keeps you turning the pages, and you are able to rest only once the last page has been finished. In the true tradition of boys adventure stories, Pirate Latitudes keeps the flag flying really high.
To place it in a literary context, this novel follows the Rider Haggard tradition of super heroes who walk on water and fly through fire. Captain Charles Hunter survives everything – from a duel with his brother’s murderer to a hand to hand combat with a kraken, and still manages to sail home and save the day.
Perhaps, in all the hustle and din of adventure and revenge, the one person I missed the most was Michael Crichton himself. Maybe I am deluding myself, but I’d like to think that if he were around, he would have made Pirate Latitudes much more than a mere tale of adventure. He would have placed it in a historical context, and established its authenticity by including an explanation of how he found Captain Hunter’s notebook. Rather in the way he did with The Eaters of the Dead.
Pirate Latitudes is a rip-roaring read, and an adventure tale to enjoy, but a bit of a let-down for Crichton fans.