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Publishing from the grave, Michael Crichton style

November 25, 2009 |  5:05 pm

Michaelcrichton_bones If you're an author, be careful what you leave lying around. In the event of your death, anything might make it to print. For Vladimir Nabokov, it was a pile of index cards, now published as "The Original of Laura" -- it's so faithful to the original that part of the book are reproductions of the index cards themselves, which can be punched loose and stacked.

There is no such artifact to accompany the posthumous novel from Michael Crichton, "Pirate Latitudes." The completed manuscript was found by an assistant on a computer after the author died last year from throat cancer. 

A buccaneer saga set in the Caribbean in the 17th century, "Pirate Latitudes" is closer to Crichton's historical romances -- "The Great Train Robbery" (1975) and "Eaters of the Dead" (1976) -- than his better-known work like "Jurassic Park," "The Andromeda Strain" and "Congo." Reviewer Tim Rutten writes:

If you're on an airplane for a flight of several hours and not in a particularly demanding mood, "Pirate Latitudes" would be a reasonably agreeable companion. The setting is the crown colony of Port Royal in Jamaica. Hunter, our dashing privateer, is an American -- coincidentally a Harvard man -- born in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. When asked by an attractive woman whether he's a Puritan, he replies, "Only by birth." You get the picture. Meanwhile, a treasure ship has arrived in the heavily fortified Spanish port of Matanceros, and Hunter is asked to capture it.

The plot unfolds, with a sassy pirate wench who bares her breasts to distract her enemies during swordfights and more. But swashbuckling isn't the point.

"Crichton had a remarkable career on its own terms and, somehow, respect ought to be paid," Rutten writes. "The point here is really a question: Are a writer's heirs really entitled to strip-mine his papers for every conceivable nugget of value?"

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Michael Crichton on the set of the 1978 film "Coma." Credit: MGM