First edition cover
|Genre||Historical fiction, Adventure|
|November 26, 2009|
Pirate Latitudes is an action adventure novel written by Michael Crichton. The book was published posthumously by HarperCollins on November 26, 2009. It is an adventure story concerning piracy in Jamaica in the 17th century.
The novel stars the fictional privateer Captain Charles Hunter who, together with the governor of Jamaica, plots to raid a Spanish galleon for its treasure. Johnathan Burnham's review states that it is "thoroughly researched...packed through with great detail about navigation and how pirates operated, and links between the New World and the Caribbean and Spain.”
According to Marla Warren, however, there is evidence that Crichton had been working on the novel at least since the 1970s; to substantiate her position, she quotes a statement by Patrick McGilligan in the March 1979 issue of American Film that Crichton was aiming "to complete a long-standing book project about Caribbean pirates in the seventeenth century."
Crichton also mentions the project in his non-fiction title Travels, published in 1988.
In 1665, Captain Charles Hunter is hired by the Governor of Jamaica, Sir James Almont, to lead an expedition to the island fortress of Matanceros. It is there that a galleon, supposedly containing treasures untold, is awaiting protection across the Atlantic for safe travel back to Spain. Almont is excited about the possibility of reward in this venture, though his secretary Mr. Robert Hacklett is less than enthusiastic, calling Hunter a pirate.
Hunter gathers his crew in Port Royal and sets sail to capture the ship in its own harbor. Mere days into the journey, their ship, the Cassandra is captured by a Spanish Warship commanded by none other than Cazalla, the infamous Spaniard who commands Matanceros. After a daring escape from their cell, Hunter and his crew reboard their ship and continue on their way before Cazalla can retaliate.
Upon their arrival at Matanceros, Hunter, Black Eye, Lazue, Sanson, and the Moor all make their way behind the fortress. Traversing up skyward cliffs, rough jungle foliage, and deadly animals, the crew comes to see that Cazalla has docked under the suspicion that Hunter is still on his way to the island. The privateers manage to make their way around the village and soldiers occupying it long enough to set their traps. After a short duel between Hunter and Cazalla, the traps are sprung, and a slice to the throat kills Cazalla. The Cassandra appears and the crew takes their captain, his mates, and the galleon out to sea.
After a few days, the treasure inside the galleon, El Trinidad, is accounted and but Hunter refuses to split the treasure between the two ships, not trusting Sanson. Soon afterward, Hunter discovers he is being pursued by the warship commanded by Bosquet, Cazalla's second-in-command. He is chased to Monkey Bay, where he narrowly evades capture with the aide of Lazue's eyesight. The warship is unable to follow due to the sun's glare on the ocean. Here Hunter waits until a few days later, the crew notices the signs of a terrible storm: a hurricane. Now they divide the treasure between the two ships, unless one would sink in the storm and all be lost. Using the genius of Don Diego, their cannons are armed and aimed for a mere two defensive shots. Upon their departure, however, the warship has disappeared.
Celebrating their surprise escape, a few miles out to sea, the warship is seen coming on their stern quickly. With Hunter aboard El Trinidad, the ship took massive damage from cannon fire until the two were in perfect alignment. The aimed cannons fired upon the warship, merely damaging it with the first shot and seeming to miss entirely on the second. However, after a moment of inactivity, Hunter realizes that the second shot actually landed a devastating blow and the attacking ship explodes with geysers of water shooting into the air. Moments later, there is little evidence of the warship.
Victory evades the two ships, however, as it begins to rain and storm. The El Trinidad and the Cassandra, helmed by Sanson, are separated by fierce winds and strong currents. After the storm abates, Hunter finds the El Trinidad beached on a strange island. A few hours later, they see the island is inhabited by cannibalistic natives, who nearly capture the niece of Governor Almont. On their way back to Port Royal, the crew suffers yet another misfortune when their ship is attacked by a Kraken. After it had killed many and damaged the ship, Hunter manages to mortally injure the beast. Their path is finally clear to Port Royal.
Upon their arrival, a courier gives message that Almont is gravely sick and Hacklett has taken charge as Governor. Hunter is arrested and put to trial, with Sanson betraying his captain and lying for the court. Hunter is sentenced to be hanged and placed in prison. With the aid of James Almont (who after all wasn't sick, but being held prisoner by Hacklett on the pretext of being sick), Hunter is sprung from prison and kills the men who sentenced him, save for the judge himself who gives Hunter a pardon. Hacklett is shot in the groin, and Sanson sends word that he alone knows where the other half of the treasure is. Hunter turns the man's own crossbow against him and kills Sanson and throws his body overboard letting the sharks eat his body, yet is never able to find Sanson's treasure.
- Captain Charles Hunter — A privateer who leads the Cassandra on their journey for treasure. Born in 1627, Hunter is originally from the Massachusetts Bay Colony with a Harvard education. A cunning and resourceful man, he is in many ways reminiscent of the criminal mastermind Edwards Pierce from The Great Train Robbery. He abandoned his home and religion at an early age to become one of the most successful and respected privateers in Port Royal. Although generally a reasonable man of his word, Hunter does not hesitate to use violence and threats to reach his goals—wealth. In addition, it is mentioned that one of his brothers was murdered by Cazalla years before, allegedly by being castrated and choked to death. In the end, Hunter catches malaria during his long voyages to find Sanson's treasure and dies almost completely forgotten, in England in 1670, with a modest estate. His son with Mrs. Hacklett becomes a merchant in the New World and his grandson ultimately becomes appointed governor of the Carolina Colony during the early American Revolutionary War.
- Don Diego a.k.a. Black Eye a.k.a. the Jew — Don Diego runs a jewelry shop in Port Royal. He is a very intelligent man, able to create and invent many instruments to suit his own need or that of his mates. In his past, he also worked with gunpowder and armaments, costing him three fingers and permanently blackening his eye (hence the name Black Eye). Diego is a Jewish man who lost a son to the inquisition. In the epilogue of the story, Diego lives to a very old age until finally dying during the earthquake that flattened Port Royal.
- Sanson — A very large and heavy man, Andre Sanson is a visual interpretation of the word assassin, with the exception of his surprisingly high voice. Notorious for being the most ruthless killer in the Caribbean, this Frenchman's skills include the sword, pistol, crossbow, and negotiations. He is, however, distrusted by many Englishmen due to his nationality; this distrust is later vindicated by his treacherous actions in the book's conclusion.
- Lazue — Lazue has excellent marksmanship and extraordinary vision, able to see far more accurately than anyone else. Raised as a man, this woman is able to confuse her enemies by baring her breasts to gain advantage. Her ability to traverse through shallow waters and coral reefs make her an important asset to the Cassandra. The epilogue of the tale mentions that Lazue is eventually hanged as a pirate and alleged lover of Black Beard in Charleston around 1704.
- Enders — While in Port Royal, Mr. Enders operates as a barber-surgeon. While at sea, he is a helmsman, able to read and steer the Cassandra perfectly due to his innate ability and is often referred to as a "sea artist." His relationship to the ship makes his experience needed many times during the voyage. Evidently his luck eventually ran out as it is stated he died during a storm on another expedition soon after the conclusion of the book.
- Bassa a.k.a. The Moor — A huge dark man, this giant is mute. After he avenged the man who cut off his tongue and killed his wife, the Moor escaped to Port Royal to make a living. Communicating with gestures, he provides an image of intimidation in addition to his strength and power. At the conclusion, it is said that he was killed by a released bull during Henry Morgan's daring attack on Panama in 1669 of which he was likely an expedition member.
- Sir James Almont — Governor of Jamaica, Almont resides in Port Royal, where he oversees his duties. Known locally as "James the Tenth" due to his privateering expeditions that lead to his own personal tenth shares of treasure, it is Almont who hires the services of Captain Hunter. Both he and his niece return to England shortly after the events of the story, only to perish in the Great London Fire of 1666.
- Robert Hacklett — A young and loyal man of England, Mr. Hacklett begins as a secretary hired to assist Governor Almont. Hacklett is a man of many words who throws them around with disregard of consequence. In his eyes, all privateering expeditions of Charles Hunter appear to be piratical ventures. He also has the misfortune of being impotent (or at least sterile) and marrying a promiscuous pretty wife who is well known to have been a mistress of King Charles II. Early on, Mrs. Hacklett becomes pregnant after a brief fling with Captain Hunter and in anger her husband allows Commander Scott to rape her. The same night, she fatally shoots him in the groin before Hunter arrives to take revenge and she dies of syphilis in 1686 (undoubtedly due to her habits). Her illegitimate son with Hunter becomes a merchant and her grandson ultimately becomes appointed governor of the Carolina Colony during the early American Revolutionary War.
- Captain Cazalla — A Spaniard who commands the Spanish fortress of Matanceros. He has a violent history with both Don Diego and Captain Hunter, yet has never met either. A villain in many respects. A brutal man, he also commands a warship that guards the naos in Matanceros' harbor.
- Anne Sharpe — A young beautiful English girl who was sent to Port Royal because she stole something from her employer in London. Despite her youth and innocent looks, she is not afraid to use her body to accomplish her goals. She was accused of witchcraft, but Governor James Almont still took her as his maid.
In August 2009, it was announced that Steven Spielberg intends to adapt the novel to film, reportedly having wanted to make a pirate film and being an admirer of Crichton's work. Spielberg has hired David Koepp to pen the screenplay. Anil Ambani's Reliance Big Entertainment and Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks Studios would produce the film. This will be the third of Crichton's novels Spielberg adapts, the others being his two highly successful Jurassic Park films. This project is still in development.
- Motoko Rich (2009-04-05). "Posthumous Crichton Novels on the Way". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
- Quoted by Marla Warren in her blog Musings on Michael Crichton in "Origins of Pirate Latitudes - Part 2" (18 June 2010)
- Matanceros is a fictional island located east of the Virgin Island chain and north of St. Kitts as shown on the map in the endpapers of the first edition. Another fictional Matanceros Island, at a different location, is found in The Lost World (Crichton novel).
- McClintock, Pamela, "DreamWorks eyes 'Pirate' for Spielberg: Studio acquires film rights to Crichton's book", Variety, Thu., Aug. 27, 2009
- "Spielberg to make pirates movie", Yahoo! Movies UK & Ireland, 27 August 2009
- "DreamWorks Hires Koepp for ‘Pirate Latitudes’ Movie", SciFi Pulse, August 2009