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Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: Pirate Hunters

I picked up Pirate Hunters as an audio book because it was listed as one of the "best of the year" on Audible. I wish I'd read the book prior to a recent visit to the Dominican Republic, as it would have added color to an otherwise lackluster trip.

The book revolves around around two divers, John Chatterton and John Mattera, who got a charter from Tracy Bowden to hunter for the Golden Fleece, a ship captained by Joseph Bannister, a pirate from the golden age of piracy. Both men are famous divers and poured much of their own money into the search.

The book covers not only the search for the Golden Fleece, but also the backgrounds of the men involved, as well as providing details on who Joseph Bannister was, why he was important (he stole the Golden Fleece twice, and fought off 2 British navy ships in Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic). Against this backdrop, there's also the threat of UNESCO potentially succeeding in convincing the Dominican Republic's government to ban treasure hunting and recall the lease rights Bowden has.

The story of the search for the Golden Fleece is great. If you're an avid diver (I'm not), the story of searching for a lost pirate ship is pretty cool, as well as the technology involved. What's even better if you're an avid consumer of fantasy literature, the hunt is a lot like the stories in those fantasy novels, except better: Mattera spends a lot of time flying to obscure libraries and the Spanish national archives, digging through old documents in an effort to nail down where the Golden Fleece actually is. When he actually finds it in a surprising location (hidden in plain view), the narrative hits a climax.

Unfortunately, a ton of the book is filler: there's an unusually vivid and viscereal description of shipboard surgery which felt unnecessary and bloody.

Ultimately, the fate of the Golden Fleece has become embroiled in lawsuits. It turns out that treasure hunters aren't very true to their word, and the dispute puts a very sour note at the end of the book. What's worse, the author, Robert Kurson, makes it very clear that every time Mattera and Chatterton told Bowden to authorize a search in the correct location, Bowden obstinately refused to listen to them and told them to go back to searching in the wrong place.

Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable book, and I'd recommend it. I heard it as an audio book, but I think that this is one of those books that's particularly bad as an audio book: when dealing with names, period literature, and location, while the audio production is undoubtedly accurate and easy to listen to, the fact that you can't glean the spelling of the place names easily from the audio edition means that further research and reading is made especially difficult. Pass on the audio book edition and read the text yourself.

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