And Now, Michael Crichton Is a Posthumous Author

No doubt there will be some fun parlor games in the book world to see which “high-level thriller writer,” to use Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham’s lingo, ends up with the daunting job of finishing off Michael Crichton’s unpublished manuscript in time for a fall 2010 publication. But I’m more curious about the novel now bumped up to fall 2009: THE PIRATE LATITUDES, which the NYT’s Motoko Rich reports is “an adventure story set in Jamaica in the 17th century.” A couple of reasons: one, because Crichton’s agent, Lynn Nesbit, told Rich he  was “the most private of all authors that I have ever met in

my life,” and that he never showed his agent or his editor any material

before he had a complete draft (which means neither Burnham nor Nesbit had no real idea what the incomplete novel was about, aside from being a techno-thriller of some sort.) And two, because of Burnham’s comments about the completed novel:

“It’s eminently and deeply and thoroughly researched,” Mr. Burnham
said. “It’s packed through with great detail about navigation and how
pirates operated, and links between the New World and the Caribbean and

Ah, but Mr. Burnham, is the novel any good? One would think that if it needs “very little line editing” that would be an answer, but isn’t this the time to puff up a posthumous author’s importance and to trumpet a novel’s fine qualities? And a thornier question is whether Crichton was ready to let THE PIRATE LATITUDES go at the time of his death, because if he guarded his work zealously from even those who advocated it the most until it was time to publish, maybe there’s a damn good reason the book hadn’t seen the light of day yet.

Of course, any and all literary merits should be judged on November 24. But reading between the lines has me jumping to the conclusion of wishing that more authors would spell out their posthumous intentions in a clear, succinct and written manner – even if such instructions end up being ignored after the fact.