Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pirate Latitudes - Michael Crichton

2009; 384 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Action-Adventure.  Overall Rating :  8*/10.

    In 1665, Port Royal on the island of Jamaica is one of the few places in the Caribbean where the Union Jack proudly flies.  A sensible British subject living there might view that as a precarious situation.  But an optimistic British privateer would see it as lots of opportunities to "liberate" good from Spanish galleons.  And Captain Charles Hunter is definitely opportunistic.

What's To Like...
    The action is non-stop.  The plot twists are many.  The setting is vividly real, even if Crichton added a couple imaginary islands (and a critter) to the story.  The women are all strong characters.  Do not mess with them.  Especially the gay one.

    This is an early Crichton effort that was never published until its manuscript was found on his computer after his death.  Anecdotal evidence (see Wikipedia) indicates it was already around, at least as a rough draft, in 1979.

    As such, there are some things (such as the critter) that strain the limits of believability.  Also, the pacing is erratic - it seems to take longer to scale a not-indispensible cliff than to carry out the boffo ending.

Kewlest New Word...
None, really.  There were some technical terms, mostly about cannons.  That's about it.

    Port Royal, in 1665, was a boomtown.  In the decade since Cromwell's expedition had captured the island of Jamaica from the Spanish, Port Royal had grown from a miserable, deserted, disease-ridden spit of sand into a miserable, overcrowded, cutthroat-infested town of eight thousand.  (pg. 9)

    "You are nothing," she sputtered, "but a bastard, a rogue, a cutthroat vicious rascally whore-son scoundrel."
    "At your service," Hunter said, and kissed her.
    She broke away.  "And forward."
    "And forward," he agreed, and kissed her again.
    "I suppose you intend to rape me like a common street woman."
    "I doubt," Hunter said, stripping off his wet clothing, "that it will be necessary."
    And it was not.
    "In daylight?" she said, in a horrified voice, and those were her last intelligble words.  (pgs. 91-92)

Jamaica ... "was not a region burdened by moral excesses."  (pg. 6)
    Keep in mind that Michael Crichton never intended for Pirate Latitudes to be published in its present form.  To bring it up to "Jurassic Park standards" would require some significant time and rewriting.  Perhaps he intended to do this "someday".

    It isn't "Cri-Fi", although the meticulous attention to detail brings the story to life and presages Crichton's later, polished works.   Pirate Latitudes is purely and simply a swashbuckling action story, with every pirate cliché possible woven into the plot.

    Therefore the occasional technical clunkiness is forgiven.  Michael Crichton is shown to be a master storyteller, even in the early days of his career.  If you liked Pirates of the Caribbean, but wished it had been a sconch less zany, Pirate Latitudes may be just your cup of grog.  8 Stars.

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