The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd

Written by Richard Zacks
Review by Marcia K. Matthews

There’s an exciting sense of discovery as author Richard Zacks peels back the layers of history and shows us 1696 Manhattan. He describes Dutch girls with colorful stockings and a silversmith who turns pirate loot into objets d’art. Captain Kidd sails in at the helm of the 32-gun Adventure Galley, short-handed due to a press gang taking his best sailors in London. His effort to line up a crew to hunt pirates fails until he promises terms more favorable to the men, less to the backers. The ship is a week out of port when his partner Robert Livingston writes to the Duke of Shrewsbury that “Captain Kidd was constrained to make new conditions with his men…and hath only reserved 40 shares for the ship.” He recommends the ship be seized.

Unaware of his changing fortunes, off the coast of Africa, Captain Kidd meets an English commodore anxious to press 30 men into the Navy. After a jolly dinner, during which Kidd boasts he would take a sail from the first ship he sees, he gives the commodore the slip. The commodore calls Kidd a pirate hiding behind the king’s commission.

Kidd was an individualist who held himself to a high standard. He would never dip his colors to the Royal Navy or East India Company. His hubris caused antagonism and rumors. Culliford was a ruthless pirate who ruled by the consent of his crew. Zacks quotes an eyewitness account of their raucous debate before a battle.

Zacks detailed style fascinates, but once in a while, he over-explains. He assumes the reader wouldn’t know a ship of this age was steered not by wheel but by whipstaff. He draws a stark contrast between Kidd and his arch-enemy Culliford. In every game, you either play, or get played.