Joining the dots

Pirate Latitudes

By Michael Crichton

Death is never fair. And so, the sickle-wielding spectre grabbed Michael Crichton early, leaving him time to drop only Pirate Latitudes on to his editor’s desk. My hopes of a return to a thinking man’s science thriller for Crichton were dashed. He tried it with Next, but that book is not really worthy of categorisation as a ‘novel’. It is a hole in literature.

Just before Crichton died, he turned his attention to pirates. And he’s written what can be described as a competent pirate adventure book. There’s wenches, swashbuckling, treasure, sea monsters, cannon – everything a book in this genre needs. Crichton must have written a big list of all these things and ticked them off as he happily worked his way through this manuscript. In so doing, he’s forgotten about character. I don’t mean to be so naïve as to hope that Crichton would craft a literary novel. But spending some more time developing characters that one cares about is important in any book, no matter what genre. And I don’t just mean characters that I would be happy to know in real life – I can care about the baddies too. The important thing is to make them human, so that when the giant squid attacks their sloop, I feel their anguish.

Pirate Latitudes is, unlike its author, instantly forgettable. It merges with every other genre-based pirate story with nothing to set it apart. It is pirates-by-numbers. A pirate dot-to-dot. Where Pirates of the Caribbean brought us the entertaining Jack Sparrow, Latitudes offers us nothing. Not even a decent title. Quite what those latitudes are remains a mystery. As will Crichton’s thoughts on why he decided to write such a middle-of-the-road adventure book.

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