“Pirate Latitudes” was written early on in Michael Crichton’s quest to become a famed novelist. It was put away while he built his reputation and fortune with works such as “Jurassic Park,” “Eaters of the Dead,” “The Andromeda Strain” and others. It was dug up after his death, like a buried treasure, and published.
I truly wish Crichton had lived long enough to run through this book again before publication. He learned many things in the course of his writing career that he apparently did not know when he wrote this pirate adventure. There is no real attempt at depth, realistic characters, plausibility, etc.
Instead, “Pirate Latitudes” is a straightforward piracy tale told at a headlong pace. Impossible things happen to a crew of pirates assembled for their individual expertise — each and every one is the absolute best at whatever it is they do. Double-crosses happen, sea monsters attack, blood is spilled, piratical tropes abound. Nearly everything you think might happen in a pirate story happens in this one, and mostly right on cue. At times, it veers toward the cinematic excesses of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, but without the winks and nudges that tell you this all in fun. The book reads as though it is intended as thrilling drama.
Despite all that, and despite knowing Crichton could do much better, “Pirate Latitudes” remains a fun read if you are obsessed with buccaneering, willing to toss suspension of disbelief overboard and, frankly, a tad drunk. As a pure guilty pleasure book romp, it is OK.
Had Crichton returned to this early effort after learning his authorial ropes, I am sure he would have made a much better book out of this. He’d have painted a few characters deeply enough to make me care when swords run through their bellies. He’d have made his pirates display their nautical skills without making them seem like X-Men level mutation powers. He’d have injected a little literature in between fight scenes and narrow escapes.
He didn’t get a chance to do that, and it is too bad. “Pirate Latitudes” might have been a modern classic of pirate stories. Instead, it is kind of a fun read if not taken seriously — but you will struggle to remember the characters and plot points later. There is no Long John Silver in this one.