“Pirate Latitudes” was the final novel released solely under Michael Crichton’s name – an unfinished novel will be co-written by an as-yet-announced post-houmous collaborator for publication in 2012. The origin of the book is dubious, apparently having been discovered amongst Crichton’s computer files. While the publisher initially speculated that the novel had been written around 2006, fans have uncovered clues that indicate a much longer development period. Specifically, an interview with Crichton from 1979 referenced a Caribbean pirate novel and his 1982 non-fiction book “Travels” references doing research for a novel set in the 17th-century. Obviously, the book had been a project that he’d toyed around with for more than half his career.
That said, the published work reads like something he was still refining. The balance simply isn’t quite there in the plot, nor is the depth or detail completely in place. It was intrigued that the book started out as a man-on-a-mission caper, setting up a major mission that surprised me by taking place mid-way through the story. This could have been a pleasant surprise, if an even-more-exciting conclusion unfolded next, but the conclusion never really topped the original mission’s promise. Thus, the excitement factor peaked around mid-way and I was left to coast downhill to the end. Other interesting plot elements, such as a hint at witchcraft, are left dangling.
I wanted more, but I suppose I didn’t have much right to expect more, due to the circumstances.
In the end, a ‘B’-grade Crichton novel was better than nothing and it was a refreshing topical change of pace for his catalog. If anything, it makes me think of it a cousin to Crichton’s “The Great Train Robbery” – another historical novel that was somewhat lighter on page count and pulpier in tone. People forget that Crichton wrote under pseudo-names early in his career and churned out a number of pulp thrillers that are now expensive to come by. He cranked those out and, while not as refined as his later works, ones that I’ve read still showed glimpses of that Crichton magic. “Pirate Latitudes” has plenty of glimpses of that magic too.