Saturday, June 20, 2015

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson

Why I Read It: Pulled from the Amazon Vine line-up. Shipwreck books are usually of great interest for me, with my background in maritime history.

Summary: A team of divers set out to find a treasure ship, then switches course to look for a pirate ship.

My Thoughts: I met John Chatterton, one of the main characters in the book. He has no reason to remember me. He was filming an episode of Deep Sea Detectives for the History Channel in Boston Harbor and the Coast Guard invited me out onto the water with them as he and his on-screen partner read their lines. I stood by and watched from behind the camera on the top deck of a 47-foot motor lifeboat.

The book carries an interesting narrative, even if I find fault with one main issue. The ancient pirate whom they - divers John Chatterton and John Mattera - chase is over-inflated in historical importance. If Joseph Bannister was as notorious in the pantheon of pirates as the author professes he is, wouldn't we have heard of him by now?

In his defense (the pirate's), he pulled a badass move, for sure. He turned from regular seagoing merchant to pirate and forced a showdown with the Royal Navy that left the latter in retreat. His story is certainly interesting, now that it has been dusted off, but does he belong, as the author states, with William Kidd and Blackbeard?

We are treated with views into the lives of the two divers. John Chatterton is a Vietnam vet who took battlefield chances others would not, a medic who ran through enemy fire to retrieve his wounded comrades. John Mattera grew up with New York mob ties and his own entrepreneurial illegitimate businesses, until turning to police work and ultimately his own protection agency. They find their common ground in diving work.

The story brings us through their journey, from the moment they decide to abandon a treasure ship search to find a pirate ship instead to the ultimate successful conclusion of that search. The journey includes all sorts of side adventures, from gun play in the streets of the Dominican Republic to quiet moments of discovery in Spanish archives.

The story is oozing with bravado and machismo, both modern and historical. And it moves well, as the divers seek to read the mind of their 17th century prey, Bannister. If they find him, mentally, and understand how he thought, they find the ship.

If you pick it up, read it like an adventure novel, and you won't be disappointed.

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