Some writers can really reach people from beyond the grave – J.R.R. Tolkien comes to mind. Michael Crichton is the latest author to have joined that odd club, with his posthumous novel Pirate Latitudes. The book is likely to sell a ton of copies over the Christmas season – Crichton was one of those rock star writers who sold an absurd number of fairly decent books, and this one will be no exception.
There’s not much to say about the plot, honestly. It takes place in 1665, at Port Royal in Jamaica. England is at war with Spain, and a privateer named Captain Charles Hunter learns of a Spanish ship, potentially with a valuable cargo en route to Europe. He puts together a sort of A-Team of pirates around the port and sets off to capture the ship, despite the massive problems that face them. While doing so, they come across a kracken, scale an impenetrable cliff, take over a spanish stronghold, storms, capture and adventure on the high seas.
This is a book that is just fun. Fans of Pirates of the Caribbean will likely enjoy this, or anybody who likes that sort of genre. Crichton has never been one to do things half-assed: bringing dinosaurs back to life – twice – a time travelling spaceship at the bottom of the ocean, alien microbes back to earth that have a devastating effect on human populations – you name it, Crichton has created the literary equivalent of a Steven Spielberg blockbuster movie, and this is really no exception, except that in this instance, hollywood has remained a step ahead of him with the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.
I’ve been an off and on fan of Crichton over the past couple of years. I fell in love with his earlier books and interesting take on Science Fiction with Jurassic Park, Timeline, The Andromeda Strain, and the Terminal Man, but felt that his last couple of books lacked that same spark and originality that his other novels held. Prey was a let-down, and I never bothered with Next or State of Fear. To be very honest, I’m not thrilled to see that Crichton’s style never really picked up with Pirate Latitudes, either. The book felt rushed, incomplete – most likely because it was, having been discovered in his files after his death last year – but at points, the book felt like it was half an effort, and I’m disappointed that someone didn’t take the manuscript, clean it up and put it into a better suit before shoving it into the public eye. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t stand up to his earlier works.
Don’t let that stop you though. This is, as the bookstore people will say, the perfect beach reading book. It’s light, entertaining, certainly nothing to be read closely, and I half-wonder when we’ll hear about the film adaptation. There’s certainly plenty of materials, and I don’t think that the pirate craze has been wrung completely dry *yet*.