three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
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0

A-PirateLatitudesAcclaimed author and screenwriter Michael Crichton, who penned such international best sellers as The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Jurassic Park (1990), passed away on November 4, 2008, after a battle with throat cancer. The completed manuscript for Pirate Latitudes, to which Steven Spielberg has already bought the film rights, was discovered posthumously by his assistant on one of his computers.

The Story: In 1665, handsome privateer Captain Charles Hunter, unofficially sponsored by the British colonial government, sets off from filthy, overcrowded, and violent Port Royal, Jamaica, to capture the Spanish galleon El Trinidad, reputedly filled with gold and moored in the nearby port of Matanceros. Assembling a crack team of specialists, Hunter concocts a daring plan to outfox the sadistic commander protecting the treasure, Cazalla, who tortured and killed his brother years before. With bloodthirsty pirates, naval warships, man-eating sharks, cannibals, hurricanes, and a sea monster standing in his way, Captain Hunter will need all of his courage and cunning to succeed.
Harper. 320 pages. $27.99. ISBN: 9780061929373

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"This hilariously exciting book already reads like a film treatment, jumping from one cinematic, doom-filled episode to the next as it cuts its bloody way through the encyclopedia of piracy from ‘Ahoy’ to ‘Yo-ho-ho.’ … ‘Let me explain to you certain pertinent facts,’ the governor says in a rather too clunky bit of exposition, but tell your inner 14-year-old to hang on: Once we get past this first section, Pirate Latitudes howls along till the very last page." Ron Charles

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Set in the Caribbean in 1665, Pirate Latitudes is pretty much a straight-ahead adventure story. … The precision of the historical detail helps conceal the thinness of the characterizations, as everyone in the book, from Hunter on down, is a type, not a three-dimensional individual." Michael Berry

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Michael Crichton’s posthumous novel, Pirate Latitudes, is a lusty, rollicking 17th-century adventure that should make for an even better movie. … There’s little of what English teachers call ‘character development.’ But what colorful characters, including a tough female pirate who dresses as a man." Bob Minzesheimer

Dallas Morning News 3 of 5 Stars
"Of course Pirate Latitudes is stuffed with Crichton’s usual cardboard characters and clunky dialogue, and large parts read like a first draft. … Still, nobody can say the Crichton method doesn’t work, as entertainment if not literature." Chris Tucker

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Character development was never one of the author’s long suits, though Charles Hunter, the rakish but honorable privateer who is the hero of this novel, and his evil nemesis, the sadistic Spaniard Cazalla, are a trifle one-dimensional even by Crichton’s standards. … In any event, if you’re on an airplane for a flight of several hours and not in a particularly demanding mood, Pirate Latitudes would be a reasonably agreeable companion." Tim Rutten

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"With a bold leading man who sounds like Indiana Jones crossed with Errol Flynn, Pirate Latitudes offers more swagger than suspense and more atmosphere than story. … Later on, Pirate Latitudes delivers an awkward pileup of big ingredients (hurricane, cannibals, giant sea monster) that don’t have much to do with one another." Janet Maslin

Entertainment Weekly 1 of 5 Stars
"A hackneyed historical novel filled with bosomy maidens and blustery old navy dialogue (‘Mizzen top blown!’) is not what Crichton should be remembered for. This is one chestful of doubloons that should have been left hidden in the sand." Benjamin Svetkey

Critical Summary

Posthumous publications come with a unique set of problems, including the question posed by the New York Times and echoed by many other critics: "Why was [this novel] found in his files and not on his publisher’s desk?" Unable to determine the actual age of the manuscript, critics speculated that Pirate Latitudes was an earlier work, closer in feel to The Great Train Robbery (1975) than to any of his more recent technological thrillers and bearing all the hallmarks of a first draft: one-dimensional characters, contrived plot devices, clumsily inserted exposition, and awkward dialogue. However, no one reads Crichton for his characterizations, and most critics admitted that they were highly entertained by this rollicking adventure tale in spite of its weaknesses.