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Cannonball Read #45: Pirate Latitudes

05/12/2010

Michael Crichton, I’m sorry. I forgot you were dead. I didn’t remember it when I was reading Pirate Latitudes, and only found out at the end, that the novel had been a complete manuscript found in Crichton’s files after his death in 2008.  It’s inexcusable to forget anyone’s death, and I’m truly sorry. On the bright side, it helped me be able to read the novel and see its problems clearly. Sorry again, Michael.

For the most part, it was a pretty good story, but …uneven. The fact that it was published posthumously made a lot of the story’s choices more clear.  It’s too bad we couldn’t have read it in a more finished form, because the story had a lot of potential.

I’ve read a few of Crichton’s novels: Jurassic Park, Congo, Timeline among others, and there was a lot of the same strong writing and characters in this Caribbean setting. It’s not high literature, but sometimes I just want to read a compelling, suspenseful story, and Crichton can usually deliver that.

The book starts with Governor Almont, who  is trying to succeed in this distant British colony, where he is fairly powerless. His explanation of his situation to his new secretary is quite scathing, and it makes him a compelling, well developed character.

Captain Charles Hunter, is the young know-it-all. He just needs one big success and he’ll be set for life. Hunter has the governor’s private blessing to go to the island of Matanceros and loot a Spanish treasure galleon that had been blown off course in a storm.  The governor and Hunter are well-drawn, and so are some of the eccentric secondary characters.  The planning and execution of the raid are also well done – Crichton is a logical storyteller, but after the raid, the plot becomes confusing. A minor character in the beginning unexpectedly seizes power in the port town while the narrative followed the raid and sea chase. Supernatural concepts are mentioned or  introduced, but fall by the wayside.

The female characters are not the most complex either, but there are some possibilities with Lazue, a boyish, cross-dressing woman who startles her enemies by baring her breasts. (Sounds weird, but it only happens once, and you can see how the technique would be effective, particularly on a man who’d been at sea for a while). Add in a Spanish captain who killed Hunter’s brother, and then a military tribunal as well. Oh, did I mention the Kraken?

It’s easy to see that a conversation with an editor could have changed a few things that would really have helped this novel. The rewriting process would certainly have refined the plot, and then Crichton could have fleshed out or removed some of the lacking areas. Sadly we won’t get to see that version, and I can imagine that Crichton’s editors didn’t want to change much without him. Wikipedia also mentions “a final unfinished techno-thriller yet to be released.” I think I’ll check that one out,  just to see what it’s like.  I don’t hold out big hopes for it, but  I bet it has potential.

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