Sunday, January 3, 2010

A slight Crichton is better than no Crichton at all

Pirate Latitudes
by Michael Crichton

I adored Michael Crichton's technothrillers. His period novels never really captivated me the same way. Nevertheless, I have to say that this latest and last is an enjoyable, if slight, entertainment. While the period and setting are surely as meticulously researched as every other work he's written, I almost felt like I was reading a pirate fantasy created by Crichton's inner child. While undeniably adult in its depictions of sex and violence (neither to excess, in my opinion), there was still a boy's adventure resting just below the surface.

The story takes a while to get going, as Crichton introduces the reader to the time, the place, and the large cast of characters led by Captain Charles Hunter, an Englishman of the Massachusetts Bay colony living in Port Royal, Jamaica in 1665. Hunter and his comrades are engaged in an ongoing, unsanctioned conflict with the Spanish plying the Caribbean waters. And that's all you really need to know.

Like Jurassic Park, this novel is a picaresque. Where in the former the characters careened from t-rex to pterodactyl to velociraptor, here it's from Spanish pirates to hurricanes to savage cannibals and more. The life of a pirate in the Caribbean--it's not a cakewalk! But I felt that Crichton plunged his rag tag troupe of characters into each new calamity with a twinkle in his eye. It's all good fun. And the best part of all may have been the novel's dénouement.

As I read, I couldn't help but think of Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road. Set in a completely different time and place, the two novels have more in common than one might guess and seem to share a sensibility. Both are light entertainments written by serious writers looking back with great affection to the adventure tales that influenced the men they eventually became. While Pirate Latitudes is not one of his most substantive works, it's not a bad way to remember the wonderful Michael Crichton.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading this and really enjoyed it. And I bought it based on your review!