I started reading Michael Crichton’s last book, Pirate Latitudes last week. The title’s not very romantic or inspiring, but I was extremely curious to see how the renowned science fiction writer would handle a straight-up pirate story. At least, I assume that it’s a straight-up pirate story. If there’s some kind of sci-fi twist at the end, don’t tell me. I’ll probably hate it, but I’d rather be surprised I guess.
The few things I’ve heard about Pirate Latitudes weren’t very positive. The story goes that Crichton’s assistant found it on the writer’s computer after Crichton died and the book got a bad rap for maybe being not quite ready for publication yet. Since I’m not even halfway done, I don’t know. And since this is the first Crichton novel I’ve ever read, I’m not even sure how it compares to his other stuff. All I do know is that – so far – I like it.
It opens on Sir James Almont, Governor of Jamaica with a gouty foot. It’s been a while since I’ve read Captain Blood, but I was reminded of the gout-suffering governor that Peter Blood waited on in that book and enjoyed imagining for a while that he and Almont were the same character. But then I went and checked and Blood‘s governor watches over Barbados, not Jamaica. I got confused because the Errol Flynn adaptation moves the location to Jamaica, but in both versions, the governor’s last name is Steed. Still: fun coincidence.
When Almont hears tell of a Spanish treasure ship sitting by itself in a bay, but guarded by the impenetrable fortress of Matanceros and its blood-thirsty commander, he commissions privateer Charles Hunter to put together a motley crew and go get it. The novel then follows Hunter and his pals with occasional cuts back to Almont and the intrigue in Port Royal as Almont’s secretary attempts to undermine the king’s confidence in the governor. There’s also a sub-plot about a pretty, but under-aged slave of Almont who may or may not be a witch. Mostly though: pirates. And great ones.
As you’d expect, Crichton’s put a ton of research into this thing and it reads as authentic. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t also daring escapes, roguish romances, and the most colorful cast of pirates since ever. I’ve also laughed aloud several times. I don’t want to read full reviews for fear of spoilers, but I wonder if the book’s negative reputation is because it’s so atypical of Crichton’s other work. As it’s own thing, it’s totally working for me.