October means Halloween means—pirates! British paleontology student Gideon Defoe’s attractively tiny debut (more properly, “pamphlet”) is prose Prozac for the nautically inclined, from its quietly insane-making jacket art to the book-clubbable questions at the end. Defoe has an appealing hero in the confident, instinctually bluffing Pirate Captain, who frankly doesn’t know the names of his rowdy, loyal crew (they’re simply “the pirate with the gout,” “the scarf-wearing pirate,” et al.). The tone is gently satiric and genuinely funny, tweaking storytelling conventions (“it was always raining in the London of themadays”) that nevertheless make this a seaworthy little page-turner.
Setting a course for adventure (more properly, “south”) the buccaneers sail to the West Indies in search of a Bank of England ship. They mistakenly attack the Beagle, making the acquaintance of one Charles Darwin, whose evolutionary model awaits some fine-tuning: “In short, I believe that a monkey, properly trained, given the correct dietary regime, and dressed in fancy clothes, can be made indistinguishable from a human gentleman.” (The simian in question, the most cultivated creature in the book, communicates with flash cards.) Defoe keeps things absurd and lively by throwing in the Elephant Man, miniature golf, cross-dressing, a mad scientist, and a curious fixation on ham. You can read it in less time than it takes to watch Pirates of the Caribbean, plus it doesn’t have that whole confusing last third where people keep sneaking back and forth under cover of night. Rated: Aaarrr!