PIRATE LATITUDES was discovered on one of Michael
Crichton’s computers after his untimely death in 2008.
Written in 2006, it is everything a pirate adventure novel should
be as it swashes and buckles its way through the Caribbean in the
mid-17th century at the height of piracy on the high seas. The
Caribbean was ripe for the picking with ships from Spain, France
and England often filled with treasure pilfered from South America
and Mexico coming to misadventure among the coral reefs and shallow
The remote British post on the Island of Jamaica is ruled by
Governor Almont, whose headquarters are in the squalid town of Port
Royal. Captain Charles Hunter, who sails under the British flag,
arrives in the port amid news that the Il Trinidad, a huge
Spanish galleon, has been spotted at anchor in a bay on Matanceros,
a Spanish stronghold near the Virgin Islands. Its sister ship was
reported sunk in a storm, and the Il Trinidad is rumored
to hold a fortune in gold and jewels.
The Governor of Jamaica, a man ruled by vanity and greed,
dangles the possibility of capturing the purported prize for the
crown in front of Captain Hunter, who holds a reputation as a
successful privateer. Privateering is considered a worthy, if
perilous, profession among adventurous seamen. It is distinguished
from piracy by one important difference: the booty claimed will no
doubt be divided by many, but privateers agree to turn over a
percentage to their crown. Pirates keep it all for themselves.
Privateers operate with the blessings of their king. Pirates swing
by the neck in the town square.
Captain Hunter, whose reputation for valor and daring precedes
him, begins combing the island bars and brothels to gather a
seasoned crew. A more murderous band of thieves and brawlers cannot
be found anywhere than in this city of cutthroats, but those known
to Captain Hunter to be trustworthy when treated, or bribed, fairly
are finally selected. Each member of his chosen crew brings very
special skills --- from fearlessness, keen eyesight and stamina, to
the ingenuity required to invent new explosive devices.
They must act quickly. The treacherous Spanish Captain Cazalla
commands the Il Trinidad and its crew of 500 sailors and
soldiers, now garrisoned on the island. Out-manning Hunter’s
crew by nearly 10 to 1, they will be a formidable opponent in a
seaward assault. Hunter decides to capture the Il Trinidad
at anchor with a small band of sailors in a daring overland action
while sending his ship and remaining crew to a nearby island to
sail back and pick them up at a pre-appointed time. Time and tides
intervene to defeat our heroes, but in true Michael Crichton
page-turning prose, our privateers overcome one seemingly
impossible obstacle placed by man and nature to reach their prize.
That, of course, is only half the battle, for now they must return
with it through hostile seas with their badly crippled ship --- and
the captured galleon --- to Port Royal.
Crichton’s well-earned reputation for research and
attention to detail is evident in this romp of an adventure tale.
His knowledge of sailing, 17th-century history and living
conditions (abominable on land and sea) bring to vivid life the
death-defying feats of Captain Hunter and his vagabond crew. It is
rumored that the film rights have been picked up already, which is
not surprising given the success of his earlier works. Bestselling
novels turned into blockbuster movies began with THE ANDROMEDA
STRAIN, written in 1969 while Crichton was still in Harvard Medical
School. (His hero in PIRATE LATITUDES, Captain Hunter, not so
coincidentally was a Harvard graduate.) Other book-into-movie hits
include JURASSIC PARK, TWISTER, THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, CONGO and
COMA. The long-running TV series “ER” was also his
Another rumor persists that the plot outline and notes for
another thriller were found on one of Crichton’s computers,
so we may not have heard the last of one of America’s most
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 18, 2011