Crichton’s swashbuckling finale
In Michael Crichton’s posthumously published Pirate Latitudes, the grog is strong, the wenches are saucy, the blood is spilled by the bucket and the cutthroats do their slicing with fiendish regularity. The hero of this fast-paced novel is Charles Hunter, a Harvard-educated swashbuckler who is a privateer captain of some renown. He does not like to be called a pirate—a point he makes by nearly drowning a man in a plate of gravy—but in Jamaica’s Port Royal in 1665, that distinction is a fine one.
Port Royal is a city of riches that is little more than a den of thieves. It also is Great Britain’s precarious toehold in a Caribbean dominated by Spain. Hunter, like other privateers in the sometime employ of the British, earns his living by raiding Spanish merchant ships. Now a storm has separated a Spanish galleon holding untold riches from its escorts, and Captain Hunter has his eye on the prize. With the blessing of Port Royal’s British governor, Sir James Almont, Hunter and his picaresque crew sail off to capture the treasure.
While the galleon El Trinidad is nearby, it rests in a harbor protected by an impregnable fortress. The Spanish commander of the harbor at Matanceros is the ruthless Cazalla, who tortured and murdered Hunter’s brother. To steal away with the galleon, Hunter must first figure out a way to silence the cannons of Matanceros without meeting the same fate as his brother.
An assistant discovered this completed manuscript in Crichton’s computer after the best-selling novelist’s death in 2008. Crichton appears to have done a good deal of nautical and political research for his old-fashioned adventure yarn. With its numerous battles, hurricanes and even a Kraken-like monster that rises from the depths to block Hunter’s path home, it’s rather different from the author’s normal fare (Jurassic Park, The Great Train Robbery, The Andromeda Strain). But action on the high seas is always fun, especially guided by the talented—and gone-too-soon—Michael Crichton.
Ian Schwartz writes from San Diego.