Everybody knows the legend of Captain Kidd, America's most ruthless buccanneer. Few people realize that the facts of his life make for a much better tale. Kidd was actually a tough New York sea captain hired to chase pirates, a married war hero whose secret mission took a spectacularly bad turn.
This harrowing tale traces Kidd's voyages in the 1690s from his home near Wall Street to Whitehall Palace in London, from the ports of the Caribbean to a secret pirate paradise off Madagascar. Author Richard Zacks, during his research, also unearthed the story of a long forgotten rogue named Robert Culliford, who dogged Kidd and led Kidd's crew to mutiny not once but twice. The lives of Kidd and Culliford play out like an unscripted duel: one man would hang in the harbor, the other would walk away with the treasure. Filled with superb writing and impeccable research, The Pirate Hunter is both a masterpiece of historical detective work and a ripping good yarn, and it delivers something rare: an authentic pirate story for grown-ups.
Entertaining, richly detailed and authoritatively narrated, Zacks's account of the life of legendary seaman William Kidd delivers a first-rate story. Though Kidd, better known as Captain Kidd, was inextricably bound with piracy and has popularly gone down as a marauding buccaneer himself, Zacks (An Underground Education) argues that he was actually a mercenary backed by the English government and several New World investors to track down pirates and reclaim their stolen wares. The book is cogent and replete with supporting evidence without the heavy-handed feel of some scholarly work. What really sets the book apart is Zacks's gift as researcher and storyteller. He highlights the role of an undeniable pirate, Robert Culliford, in Kidd's tale and pits the two men against each other from the outset, constructing his book as an intriguing duel. Aside from the tightly constructed plot, Zacks also wonderfully evokes the social and political life of the 17th century at land and at sea, and he takes turns at debunking and validating pirate folklore: while it appears the dead giveaway of a skull and crossbones made it a rare flag choice, Zacks contends that pirates did often wear extravagant clothing and were as "drunk, cursing, hungry, horny... and violent" as myth would have them. Augmented by such details and driven by a conflict between Kidd and Culliford that keeps the pages flying, Zacks's book is a treasure, indeed.