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Captain Joseph Bannister… if the name fails to bring you to your knees, trembling in a state of fear, you’re not alone. Bannister is without question one of the most overlooked principals of piracy’s Golden Age, yet there are sound arguments to be made that he was one of the most fascinating men ever to terrorize the waterways of the Caribbean, and also one of the most successful. In short, one of the best pirates ever.



A once-respectable Englishman who willingly traded a good transcontinental shipping commission for a black flag, Bannister stole the same ship twice, escaped from prison, cavorted with notorious French swashbucklers, and fought the Royal Navy head-on before his career (and his life with it) came to an end.


The book Pirate Hunters follows world-renowned shipwreck divers John Mattera and John Chatterton on their quest to find the burned and sunken remains of Bannister’s ship, the Golden Fleece. From their first meeting with an eccentric backer in the United States, the reader feels like part of the crew. The book takes all these various narratives—Joseph Bannister’s life and turn to crime, Mattera and Chatterton’s backgrounds, the technical aspects of shipwreck salvage, political and familial drama—and weaves them around the reader until, suddenly, we’re right there in the middle of a complete and coherent story that spans a handful of centuries and several main characters.




The fact that I knew next to nothing about Joseph Bannister or the Golden Fleece (or Mattera, or Chatterton, or shipwreck diving) before picking up Pirate Hunters was in no way a hindrance to my enjoyment of the book. If anything, it made for a more exciting read. As the facts were revealed one-by-one through Kurson’s expertly-paced narrative, it felt like I was right there with Chatterton and Mattera: on the boat, tediously weaving back and forth to drag newfangled magnetic imaging equipment over the turquoise bay; in a library in London, squinting at stacks of four-hundred-year-old commerce records and ships' logs, desperately hoping for any class of clue; under the water, shoving aside debris and abandoned lobster traps, hoping to find a cannonball, a fragment of pottery, anything.


And what about the actual author of Pirate Hunters, Robert Kurson? Frankly, he doesn’t need my endorsement. The fact that Mattera and Chatterton sought him out after their adventure, eager to the put the story in his capable hands, says more about his literary abilities than anything I could type up. Kurson is that rare sort of nonfiction talent who is able to write someone else’s true story in a way that is nonetheless conversational and deeply personal. It takes a certain kind of writer to keep a story urgent and engaging when the topic turns to the procedures by which one might scrape the barnacles from a ship's hull some four hundred years ago. Kurson is that kind of writer.


Pirate Hunters is highly recommended by your library director—not just for those readers interested in shipwrecks, pirates, diving, or the Dominican Republic, but for anybody who likes a good story.


Pirate Hunters can be found in nonfiction at call number 910.9 KUR, and is also available to check out as an eBook through OverDrive!