Book Review: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: November 24, 2009 (first published November 13, 200)

Edition: Hardcover, 312 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure

Rating: 2/5


Buried treasure it may be – but there was no gold to be found.

Backcover:

Jamaica in 1665 is a rough outpost of the English crown, a minor colony holding out against the vast supremacy of the Spanish empire. Port Royal, Jamaica′s capital, a cut-throat town of taverns, grog shops, and bawdy houses, is devoid of London′s luxuries; life here can end swiftly with dysentery or a dagger in your back. But for Captain Edward Hunter it is a life that can also lead to riches, if he abides by the island′s code. In the name of His Majesty King Charles II of England, gold in Spanish hands is gold for the taking. And law in the New World is made by those who take it into their hands.

Word in port is that the Spanish treasure galleon El Trinidad, fresh from New Spain, is stalled in nearby Matanceros harbor awaiting repairs. Heavily fortified, the impregnable Spanish outpost is guarded by the blood-swiller Cazalla, a favorite commander of King Philip IV himself. With the governor′s backing, Hunter assembles a roughneck crew to infiltrate the enemy island and commandeer the galleon, along with its fortune in Spanish gold. The raid is as perilous as the bloody legends of Matanceros suggest, and Hunter will lose more than one man before he finds himself on the island′s shores, where dense jungle and the firepower of Spanish infantry are all that stand between him and the treasure.

With the help of his cunning crew, Hunter hijacks El Trinidad and escapes the deadly clutches of Cazalla, leaving plenty of carnage in his wake. But his troubles have just begun. . . .

There are two books I read in college that I give credit to, for reigniting my love of reading. One of them was Timeline by Michael Crichton. Ever since then, Michael has become one of my favorite authors. However, this novel had many things I did not enjoy about it, and aside from the idea of what the story is about, and a few scenes – there was almost nothing I did like.

The year is 1665 in the Caribbean and almost all the islands and waters are controlled by King Philip IV of Spain. However, there are few islands that are of English control, and one is Jamaica.

The governor of Port Royal, Jamaica is Sir James Almont. One day when a merchants ship arrives, it is found out that a Spanish ship – potentially carry large amounts gold and other treasures – has been separated from the pack and is now waiting at a harbor in the island of Matanceros. Knowing of riches that could be gained from this ship, Sir James cannot let this opportunity slip from his grasp. He seeks out the very successful privateering (not pirate) Captain Edward Hunter to go retrieve this ship. Matanceros is rumored to be an impregnable fortress and ruled by the ruthless Cazalla. In order to succeed on this trip, Hunter will have to hand select a special crew, each with their own unique skills for the mission to be a success.

This adventure – dangerous as it already is – becomes something of a nightmare as the story progresses. Before they even reach Matanceros, the crew runs into disastrous situation and things only get worse from there. It seems that reaching and stealing the ship may be the least of Hunter’s worries. Aside from Cazalla and Matanceros, Hunter will have to face other enemies on the seas, political turmoil, hurricane weather, cannibals tribes, and even sea-monsters…

What I just said there – the synopsis – sounds freaking awesome! Pirates going off to the seas to sneak onto an island and steal a ship full gold, but end up running into a bunch of disasters and even a sea monster… AND it’s by Michael Crichton. Where do I sign up, right? WRONG. While the story sounds great, there is an inconsistent plot with holes, generic/one-dimensional characters, inconsistent and lack-luster writing, and an overall poor execution of something that could have been a great novel.

I thought the novel started off fairly good. We are introduced to Sir James Almont, learn about Port Royal, the political rules between the English and Spanish, and how people perceive privateering verse pirates. Then merchants ships comes in and we meet Charles Hunter and go off to build the crew. Good plot building to start. Then when what I thought would be the start of the fun stuff – getting our crew – was when the flaws started to shine, and I lost my interest.

The introductions to the characters just felt incomplete, brief, and shallow. There is enough for us to see what their purpose is, but through out the story, no one really develops more. Even with our main protagonist Hunter, we learn a major even that happened in his life that connects him Cazalla, but it was brought up so nonchalantly, oh by-the-way as I walk out the door, the impact wasn’t there, and left me wondering what the point of bringing it up was. Then when the two meet, it barely came up at all – literally no mention – and had zero impact on the story. Similar events like this go for all the characters.

The plot development reminded me of those one of those color by number toys. Looking the whole picture, you thinks it’s going to be great! Expect when you start, you notice there are numbers missing, some are in the wrong places, the colors don’t match up, and you have excess or unused colors… Disappointment.

There was a BUNCH of great plot points, and action scenes, but there was no developed to them. They were not suspenseful, didn’t have gripping lead up, nor were they carried out well. It felt like we were randomly going from action scene to action scene will with almost nothing or just ‘fluff’ development in between. Now, every one of these scenes were great – really! – but only in idea. There was too many of them, most felt rushed or pointless, and only a couple were written well.

The events of the ending was seemingly just as rushed, random, and disconnecting too. Even the epilogue had me asking what was the point of that.

I came to realize this novel was one of 3 things:

  1. This novel was written long ago, before Michael’s prime, and was never intended to published.
  2. This was something he wrote in his free time – for fun.
  3. He was planning on publishing this novel, but this was a first rough draft – before an edit or beta-readers – and what we have were mostly ideas of what could happen.

Either way, this was not meant to be read by the public the way it is. Personally, I think it is number 3. It feel like there is a basic plot outline for the story, with generic outlines of the characters, some big things of their pasts, and a bunch (too many actually) of random events, critical moments, and actions scenes, of which some will be chosen to make the final cut, and developed out more.

Like I have been saying this whole time, this was a great idea for a story, and I think we are only reading Micheal’s idea – not anywhere near a finished product.

Unless you have read every other book out there by Michael Crichton, do not pick this one up. There are plenty of other great choices to choose from, and if you are looking to get into Michael for this first this is no way reflects his writing capability – pick something else up. (And if you looking for a good ship story, I highly recommend The Terror by Dan Simmons)

I think it was nice that this novel got published after his death – for the fans – just don’t come into this expecting the Michael you are used to reading. Read this as more a memory of him, or something you know would have turned out great had he the time.

Michael Crichton is still one my favorite writer, but…

2/5 Rating

-DJ

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

  1. Levi says:

    Nice, I hadn’t really heard of this book before. I recently went back and reread Jurassic Park. Check out my review if you’re interested: http://thestake.org/2015/05/13/the-backlist-revisiting-michael-crichtons-jurassic-park/

    Your site looks really cool. I use kind of a similar format for my reviews. Follow along if you’d like! https://leviathanbound.wordpress.com/

    Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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