Cut-throat captain

<strong>Empire of Blue Water: Henry Morgan and the Pirates Who Ruled the Caribbean Waves</strong>

Everyone loves a scoundrel and everyone loves gore. With Empire of Blue Water, which recounts the life of privateer captain Henry Morgan in the 17th-century Caribbean, Stephan Talty feeds the greedy mob what they want: pillaging and cut-throating and swashbuckling galore.

Morgan was sent by King Charles II to sabotage Spanish trade in the Caribbean by whatever means available to him. Talty glories in the bloody details of each battle, thankfully avoiding Hollywood’s compulsive portrayal of buccaneers as wayward but misunderstood rascals. Although charismatic, Morgan was a brutal character: at one point he packs ladders with prisoners – a local mayor, the religious and the elderly – to create a human shield against enemy attack.

Talty does have his idealistic moments, however. The statement that “pirates were democrats” is sweeping to say the least – although, compared to “civilised” communities, the social structure was progressively egalitarian. Injury or highest-risk fighting in combat was rewarded with a larger share of the loot. This book is a shameless cash-in on the Jack Sparrow sensation, but it is gleefully gory and gripping.

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The new terror