Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

A posthumously published work is like a double edged sword for both reader and  author. For fans, if the work is not “up to par” it can be a disappointing experience leaving a sense of dissatisfaction and comparisons with other more polished work. For authors, it may have been a personal piece meant only for them to enjoy or a draft for a future novel still in the rough and nowhere ready for publication.

Pirate Latitudes was dug out of Michael Crichton’s filing cabinet after his death.  Yes, it is not as polished as his more famous work but I also understand that it is most likely a draft meant to be subject to extensive editing and re-writing.  You know what? I didn’t care.

There is something fun about the pirate story. This is very traditional pirate stuff. An English outpost in Jamaica with a Governor-General fond of drinking and privateering is approached by Captain Hunter. A Spanish galleon located on a neighboring island is said to contain a mother lode. It lays at anchor in a heavily fortified bay. Hunter is given the o.k. by the GG with the understanding that he himself, as well as the Crown will both get their share.

Hunter goes about the town under cover of darkness gathering together a crew of specialists to help him undertake this daring expedition, considered impossible by more conventional privateers. These specialists include Bassa the Moor – the brawn; Lazue a female pirate with a knack for navigation; Black Eye aka “The Jew”, a merchant with a sideline in explosives and a Frenchman named Sanson who may be an ally or an enemy – only time will tell.

On their journey they are faced with all manner of obstacles. Cazalla, a Spanish pirate who controls the fortress at Mantaceros where the galleon is anchored, must be faced first. He captures their ship on the way to the raid and again at the fort during the capture of the galleon. Storms in the Caribbean waters of a mild nature right up to hurricane force winds force them to negotiate a treacherous reef to find shelter.

Arawak cannibals on an unnamed island and a kracken, both, attempt to take the crew and they are further hindered by having to rescue the Governor-General’s niece who had been captured by Cazalla and who was also was dabbling in witchcraft – a hobby she picked up during a stint in France.

Upon their arrival back to home port the Governor-General has been imprisoned in a coup by some unscrupulous underlings and more adventures abound as the crew attempts to save themselves from unfriendly government troops, unsavory politicians and each other.

Yes, this is not the most polished novel, but it was a great story, a quick read and I could only imagine what may have become of it had Crichton been able to work with it as he probably wanted. This was never really meant for readers – I’m sure the publishing house was just looking for that final pay day from an author that was gone too soon.  Enjoy it for what it is and appreciate that Crichton took the time to write it.

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