By 1665, much of the Americas had been colonized by Europeans and though nations such as England, France and Holland were in on the steal, the vast majority of the new world was under Spain's rule. The Spanish Main, as it was called, encompassed almost the entirety of the Caribbean as well as most of the more advantageous ports of call in North, Central and South America. The region was the primary trading spot and departure point for titanic amounts of riches--gold, silver, gems and spices--accumulated by Spanish merchants and explorers. The lucrative shipping alley was also ripe terrain for privateering (lawful, legitimate attack on and commandeering of merchant ships) and, of course, the other far more profitable venture likewise classified as privateering--piracy.
In Port Royal, Jamaica--the island colony being one of the few exclusively British territories--English seamen and privateer Captain John Hunter has undertaken a very dangerous operation; but one which, if it succeeds, will bring home one of the largest quantities of riches ever conceived of (£500,000), much less possessed by anyone in the privateering racket. But the charted escapade is a daunting one, a suicide mission only a few willing souls dare undertake. Hunter and his collection of nefarious, though capable men (and one 'woman'), all well-experienced cutthroats, plan to stealthily encroach upon the rear side of an obscure island where the Spanish Galleon containing the prized bullion is docked. Their plan is to somehow gain access to the ship by maneuvering up the steep opposite end of the island, through dense jungle, and somehow past over 150 guards, all armed and protected by a sturdy fortress compound on a ridge just above the harbor. All involved know of the danger, but the reward and the adventure are too much to pass up.
Crichton's latest thriller was also his last, penned just before his death in 2008. But his swan song effort ranks among his best. Not only is Pirate Latitudes a satisfying adventure novel, it's instructional too just like, well, every single one of the author's other books. In the same mold of historical favorites Eaters of the Dead, The Great Train Robbery and Timeline in which Crichton's touch effortlessly creates appeal, the novel illuminates a particular aspect of history which is already well-represented in fiction (and non-fiction), but perhaps never rendered with such clever and fascinating detail. (FIC CRICHTON)