This is Michael Chrichton’s last ever book. Which is incredibly sad because he was a great author. Not one to settle on any genre, he has tackled dinosaur parks, the medical world, the aeroplane industry, the environment, vikings, pirates, and more. He is consistently fun to read. This book was found on his laptop after he died, which always makes me a bit wary. Was it finished properly? Why didn’t he send it out?
Pirate Latitudes is about pirates. Of the Caribbean. Had to word that carefully. It follows the adventures of the privateer Captain Charles Hunter as he has a series of what can only be described as ‘rip-roaring’ adventures. The core of the novel is his attack on a fortress called Matanceros in order to nick a Spanish treasure galleon moored under its protection. The fortress is predictably impregnable. Almost.
The book reads like a fun, shallow series of adventures. Every pirate adventure cliche is present, it is almost as if he wrote a list. Rough rogue Captain leads a plucky crew and does the following (tick the pirate story boxes): climbs cliffs, blows up strongholds, has duels, sleeps with whores, has sea battles, gets thrown in a dungeon, fights cannibals, is attacked by a kraken, and lots more. I didn’t give away any more of the plot than is on the cover. Plus it doesn’t matter. Think of this book as an old fashioned periodical adventure series, like Flash Gordon or the basis behind Indiana Jones. If you approach in that frame of mind you won’t be disappointed.
With the above mindset, you can forgive the cliches. And it is very cliched and formulaic. His crew, especially when he recruits them, is like those you would find in a cheesy film. The ones where a leader goes through a load of dossiers and finds one that can fly a helicopter and is good at knife-fighting, another that is a brilliant hacker, and so on. In this: the Jew, aka, Black Eye, is brilliant with explosives. Enders is a brilliant surgeon and one of the best helmsman around. Lazue is a feisty woman fighter who has brilliant eyesight. Bassa ‘The Moor’ is a huge strong black guy with no tongue. All a bit familiar but it really doesn’t matter in a story like this. Look at the Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Arc, or Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon, or anyone in a Bond film.
So is Pirate Latitudes any good? Yes. Not brilliant, but fun. It’s an action adventure about pirates for fuck’s sake, what were you expecting? It is harmless escapism, with lots of narrow escapes and cliffhangers. It is a bit cliched (a word I have used a lot in this review) but that is utterly irrelevant as the book is well-written in a page-turning thriller kind of way. If you want more realistic sea adventures – look at the superb Patrick O’Brian. If you want a rip-roaring pirate tale in the vein of Treasure Island, look no further. Me hearties.