Pirate Latitudes

Written by Michael Crichton
Review by Patricia O’Sullivan

The year is 1665, and a Spanish treasure ship sits alone in a fortified Caribbean cove. It is as if the fates have placed it there, for only one man has the skill and daring to try to capture it: Captain Charles Hunter, a Puritan-born scholar from Boston turned Caribbean privateer. He gathers a crew like no other: a far-sighted female pirate, a mute Moor, a French assassin, an English barber-surgeon, and a Sephardic Jew skilled in explosives. Together they set out from Jamaica on an epic adventure battling a sea monster, the weather, the dreaded Spanish commander, Cazalla, and each other for both riches and their very lives.

The late Michael Crichton had thirteen of his novels made into films; Pirate Latitudes is no exception, with Steven Spielberg already committed to direct it. The novel is a great read, with plenty of adventure and humor, but fewer of the fantastical elements from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Yes, there is a kraken, but no cursed gold or living dead. Also, Crichton’s portrayal of Port Royal and its inhabitants is far more grounded in reality than Disney’s portrayal. Crichton does not gloss over the slavery, addiction and brutality of colonial Jamaica, nor does he endow his characters with abilities beyond their training or station in life. Finally, while the conclusion to the first Pirates of the Caribbean film is both predictable and campy, the ending chapters of Pirate Latitudes are sure to surprise readers.