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Literature / Pirate Latitudes

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Pirate Latitudes is an action adventure Period Piece, and the final novel finished by Michael Crichton. It was found on his hard drive by his assistant after his death, and published posthumously, in 2009. The story takes place in The Spanish Main in 1665, centering on Privateer Charles Hunter, who is tasked by the governor of Jamaica, James Almont, to steal a massive treasure fleet from an imprenetable Spanish fortress, called Matanceros, and the bulk of the stories centers on the adventures experienced by Hunter and his crew. A movie by Steven Spielberg has been revealed to be in production, and Spielberg's long time assistant David Koepp is working on it, but no further detalils has been revealed.

The plot of the novel, more detailed, goes as follows: In 1665, a ship arrives in Port Royal, carrying words of a large treasure of gold, mined by the Spanish in South America, and taken to the impenetrable fortress of Matanceros, awaiting escort across the Atlantic. Interested in acquiring the gold, James Almont, the governor of Jamaica, secretly orders Privateer Charles Hunter to retrieve the gold, promising him a share, against the request of Robert Hacklett, Almonts new Obstructive Bureaucrat assistant. However, the gold is guarded by Cazalla, the sociopathic Spanish commander of Matanceros, and Hunter, even after assembling his crew, is facing hardships. A short mention of the problems he experiences in route, can be summed up to: Getting captured by Cazalla, Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity at Matanceros, experiencing some serious Jungle Japes on the same island, including snakes and mosquitoes, fighting Cazalla's men at Matanceros, fleeing Matanceros, pursued by Cazalla's Dragon Ascendant, Bosquets, battling his warship, dealing with the hardships of The Load, Brainless Beauty Lady Sarah Almont, the governor's niece, a hurricane, a Cannibal Tribe, a Giant Squid, the Tyrant Takes the Helm, in the familiar form of Robert Hacklett in Port Royal, and finally, a significant betrayal by a crew member. It is a true adventure novel, in other words.

Pirate Latitudes feature the following tropes:

  • Animals Not to Scale: The kraken that attacks El Trinidad that must be considered a giant squid, (or a colossal squid alternatively, but that would put it under Misplaced Wildlife), is way larger than a Real Life giant squid. Actually, the first to appear is not that far off. In past observations of giant squid, the mantle was sometimes estimated at twenty feet, although the common consensus today is that it will rarely grow larger than six feet. The second kraken appearance, however, is way beyond any Real Life animal, with the eye alone being five feet across, and the tentacles as thick as tree trunks. On the opposite, the crocodiles described later in the book seem somewhat smaller than in Real Life. Hunter mentions that the crocodiles in Jamaica rarely grow beyond 4 feet, and that the one five feet long must come from the mainland. Actually, the species of crocodile in Jamaica, the American crocodile, can grow to a whopping twenty feet on the mainland, and rarely some actually do grow to 13 feet in the Caribbean, but the fact remains that Hunter's estimations would be more correct if expressed in meters rather than feet. Possibly a simple mistake from Crichton, failing to recognize between meters and feet, although this would seem unusual for a man so keen on showing his work.
  • Bad Boss: While, he is not one of the worst bosses despite everything else, when Cazalla realizes his captives have escaped, he immediately misplaces his anger on a Spanish soldier nearby, knocking him down.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Subverted to hell and back by a bear, appearing for a short sequence in Port Royal. It is just a bear baiting outside the inn, and the helpless bear is tormented by children and whores, doomed to die a painful death. This happened in Real Life.
  • Big Bad: Cazalla is probably the villain to get closest to this status, but since he dies half-way through the book, he cannot truly be called this. In the ending, both Robert Hacklett and Sanson can qualify.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Cazalla has no memory of his killing of the son of the Jew, and the brother of Hunter.
  • Cannibal Tribe: Hunter's crew runs into one such cannibal tribe in Boca del Dragon, who almost succeed in capturing Governor Almont's niece.
  • Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity: The heroes have to climb high cliffs after landing at Matanceros.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: When Cazalla tries to force the crewmen to talk, he subjects one to getting his face eaten alive by starved rats.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Many of them, including minor characters. The above-mentioned privateer, who gets his face eaten by rats at the hand of Cazalla, probably takes the cake, but there are other candidates as well. Cazalla gets stabbed in the throat by Hunter throwing his sword, a Red Shirt crewman is torn up and eaten by the cannibals, several more crewmen are strangled and pulled overboard by the Kraken, Hacklett bleeds to death after taking a bullet to the groin, and in the epilogue, the Moor is run down by a bull, and The Jew is killed in the 1691 earthquake that flattens Port Royal.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Hacklett is shot in the groin by his wife after she decides enough is enough.
  • The Dragon: Bosquets is this to Cazalla, and Commander Scott is this to Robert Hacklett in the ending.
    • Dragon Ascendant: Bosquets takes command over the spanish warship after Cazalla's death.
  • Evil Feels Good: For Cazalla, at least.
  • Eye Scream: Cazalla allows the rats to attack the eyes of the crewman he tortures, and later, Hunter defeats the kraken by axing its eye.
  • For the Evulz: Cazalla enjoys violence, and the pain and agony of others.
  • Giant Squid: Appears twice. At first it does not do much, and is mostly considered an omen. The second time, it is extremely aggressive, is MUCH larger than real life a giant squid, and attacks in the ship, killing several crew members.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: A stab in the throat from Hunter's thrown sword is how Cazalla meets his end.
  • Joker Jury: During Hunter's trial, the members of the jury have been handpicked by Hacklett, among the people in Port Royal that will get most out of his death.
  • Kangaroo Court: After returning from his journey, Hunter is subjected to one, led by Hacklett, and judged to be hanged.
  • Karmic Death: Hacklett is shot in the groin by his wife, after she gets fed up with his abuse.
  • Kick the Dog: Cazalla slitting the throat of a crew member, and later torturing another with rats. Hacklett allowing Commander Scott to rape his wife.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: The kraken appears to attack El Trinidad, commanded by Hunter. Also counts as the book's only deviance from realism, since giant squid does not get near that size.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: For a large part, masterfully averted, as could be trusted from Crichton, but a very minor slip-up appears. Coral snakes are not known from eastern Caribbean islands, and Matanceros is described as the easternmost in the islands, nor are venomous snakes in general, apart from the fer de lance vipers from Martinique. However, since Matanceros is a fictional island, this could possibly be irrelevant. Also, monkeys are scarcely seen in the Caribbean, and if the Giant Squid fitting the size proportions of a Colossal Squid, that would count too, as they only live around Antarctica.
  • My Sibling Will Live Through Me: The reason Lazue started to live as a boy, was that her older brother died, and since she was illegitimate, her mother had to disguise her as the brother to avoid revealing that she had been cheating on her husband.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Cazalla has a great fascination with violence, suffering, and death. To iterate, when he slits the throat of a crew member, he watches it with a completely absorbed fascination, and he has a painting of the cruxifiction of Christ, which he keeps because he is fascinated with watching the wound and the blood flowing from the man.
  • Random Events Plot: After the attack on Matanceros, the rest of the story basically follows all the misfortunes the crew runs into on the return journey.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: A coral snake nearly kills Lazue at Matanceros.
  • Shout-Out: The rat torture scene is very similar to the scene where Wintson finally breaks in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Shown Their Work: With Crichton involved, what would you expect? Everything, from the wildlife, to the historical events in the epilogue, to the navigation techniques, are completely accurate, and the fictional events of the book fits to a tee.
  • Show Some Leg: Lazue takes this to a new degree. When faced with Spanish guards at Matanceros, she takes off her shirt, posing as a siren, and subsequently slits all their throats while they're too stunned to act. Also, Hunter uses Anne Sharpe to distract Sanson in the climax, allowing Hunter to kill Sanson.
  • Slashed Throat: Cazalla killing a crewmember. Of course, when Hunter finally kills Cazalla, a simple slash won't do it. Instead he throws his sword, stabbing Cazalla through the neck.
  • Swarm of Rats: The ship brings with them several live rats, whos intestines the Jew intends to use to make fuses with, but when Cazalla finds them, he figures out how to use them as a torture method.
  • Threatening Shark: Sharks circle Sanson's boat in the climax, and devour his body after Hunter kills him.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Hunter is sorely disappointed that the silver turns out to be impure, contaminated with the then-worthless metal platinum.
  • You Killed My Father: Cazalla tortured and killed Don Diego's son, and did more or less the same to Hunter's brother in the backstory.