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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pirate Latitudes: Even Crichton's Gotta Do Better Than This

I started off the new reading year with a bang, but this week I hit a bit of a snag. Out of the 8 books I'd finished in 2010, 6 were middle grade or young adult fiction, so I thought it was time to delve into a "grownup" book. I picked one up, put it down, chose another one, got bored ... nothing grabbed me. In desperation, I finally plucked Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes off my shelf. Although I've never actually read any Crichton, I've seen enough of the movies (Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Sphere, etc.) to know he writes "guy" books. Not really my thing. Still, the generous folks at HarperCollins sent this one along, so I thought, "Why not?" And guess what? It did the trick. My funk disappeared.

I'm not saying Pirate Latitudes is great literature. It's not. But if you're looking for some mindless entertainment, you could do worse than Crichton's newest. (Quick note: Crichton died in 2008. His assistant found the full manuscript for this novel among Crichton's computer files. It was published posthumously in November of last year.)

The swashbuckling adventure takes place in 17th Century Jamaica. Port Royal to be exact. The city is a bustling port, a popular place for privateers to make and spend their fortunes. With taverns and "bawdy houses" on every corner, it's a rough, raucous city of sin. Although much is tolerated on its mean streets, pirates are not. Enter the privateers: these intrepid plunderers raid ships and strongholds belonging to the Spanish empire, "earning" treasure for the Crown, the royally-appointed governor of Jamaica Colony, and themselves. The most notorious of these is Captain Charles Hunter.

When Hunter learns of a Spanish galleon resting in a nearby harbor, he dreams of one thing: getting his hands on the treasure she carries. The only problem will be breaching Matanceros, an impregnable island heavily guarded by the sadistic Cazalla and hundreds of Spanish soldiers. Amassing a crew to join Hunter on his suicide mission isn't easy. Getting the treasure will be even tougher still. Braving rough seas, scaling sheer rock faces, fighting off jungle predators, and blowing up Spanish garrisons are only the beginning of Hunter's wild adventures.

Pirate Latitudes is not a complicated novel. It's basically about a captain, his ragtag crew, and their daring, greedy quest to steal a galleon full of gold. There's little subtlety, scant originality, and no real depth. Crichton's cast leaves much to be desired - his characters are interesting, but not terribly unique or even particularly likeable. Pirate Latitudes is about one thing: Action. The plot races from one crisis to the next with dizzying speed, always pitting Hunter against exciting, death-defying odds. It's entertaining, no doubt about it, but the story offers nothing really new or different. With Jack Sparrow commanding center stage in the 21st Century pirate world, even Crichton's gotta do better than this.

Even without reading previous Crichton books, I'm pretty sure this isn't his best work. I'll shelve my disappointment in Pirate Latitudes and move on - to Sphere, perhaps? Or maybe I'll find some old episodes of ER to watch, although I admit my fascination with the show has always been more about Clooney than Crichton ...

As far as book trailer's go, I think this one is pretty good. It's actually the UK version, which I like better than the US one:

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received this book for review from HarperCollins.

(Book image is from Barnes & Noble)


  1. hmm... doesn't sound much up my alley either. I always liked his movies, but struggled through the majority of his books. Maybe it is a gender thing!

  2. Keep in mind that Crichton died last year and his "final draft" was discovered on his hard drive by his assistant after his death. Of course the publisher decided to publish it so the book did not get Crichton's final approval. It was a way for the publisher to make money and it is. Steven Spielberg has signed on to make the movie version.

  3. Jenna - It's definitely a "gender thing!"

    LakyK - Good point. We don't know what changes he might have made. I completely understand why it was published anyway - Michael Crichton could have written a phone book and it would have ended up on the bestseller list.

    My point is this: Regardless of what he would have changed, the basic story of PIRATE LATITUDES has very little originality, especially in comparison to stories like JURASSIC PARK and SPHERE.

  4. Michael Crichton's "Pirate Latitudes" is everything you're looking for in a pirate adventure. It doesn't necessarily do anything new with the genre, but it will satisfy those who found the popular "Pirates of the Caribbean" films too over-the-top and cartoony.


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