Gideon Defoe,
The Pirates! In an
Adventure with Scientists

(Pantheon, 2004)

This book, a surprise find beneath my Christmas tree this year, is a handful of flagrantly silly fun. Once I started reading it, I couldn't stop; it stayed with me in my coat pocket wherever I went, and the sound of my chortles, chuckles and outright belly laughs was a sure sign I'd found a few moments to crack open the cover and read.

Apparently written by Gideon Defoe to impress a girl (who, according to the book flap, was not impressed), the book plops a fun-loving crew of ham-loving pirates down in the high seas of anachronistic fun. Oh, the book seems largely set in the early 19th century, but you'll find enough out-of-time references to keep you guessing.

The Pirate Captain -- who, like most of his crew, is never named -- decides his crew is growing too lazy in the sunny Caribbean, so he decides to set out on a Pirate Adventure. As the book's title suggests, it involves scientists (the best-known of whom is a young Charles Darwin), although various other Adventures involving cowboys and squid are mentioned in the book. (This is Defoe's first adventure novel; I can't help but wonder if a series is planned.)

The adventure soon takes the pirate crew to England, where there's a circus, a bishop a very tall clock, a well-mannered manpanzee, the Elephant Man, a few rousing games of miniature golf and other assorted plot twists. But really, it's not what they do or where they do it that matters so much as the way it all gets done. If you're not laughing throughout this too-short book, you need to take a refresher course on basic wit.

Defoe scatters footnotes liberally throughout the book, but -- unlike humorist Terry Pratchett, who uses footnotes to make his books even funnier -- these are actual bits of wisdom and knowledge that are funny simply because of their abrupt, non sequitor nature.

This first Pirates! adventure ends far too quickly. Otherwise, I have nothing bad to say about this wonderful debut novel; I hope Defoe has more girls to impress, because I insist on seeing another book from him soon.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 15 January 2005

Buy it from