The Pirates in an Adventure With a Downwardly Spiraling Economy

Gideon Defoe’s pirate adventure series is published by Pantheon Books. Please look for them in your local bookstore before going online.

There’s good news and bad news this week. The good news is I’m on vacation. The bad news is you’re presumably not, since Race to the Bottom is hardly what I’d call light summer-reading fare. In fact, this week I had planned to write about the quadrillion dollars’ worth of toxic assets still sitting on the balance sheets of every major U.S. bank, and what’s going to happen this fall, when the banks are finally forced to mark-to-market and the whole house of cards collapses, sucking the global economy down a vortex leading straight to Davey Jones’ locker.

Then I thought, why rub it in? I’m on vacation and you’re not.

So, in a break with usual depressing, monotonous ruminations, this week I’m going to share what has been one of the biggest joys in my life this year.

I’m talking about, of course, The Pirates, a wonderful series of wacky adventure novellas by British author Gideon Defoe.

The first thing I’d like to note about Mr. Defoe’s series of four books is the books are exceedingly small, just 6-and-three-quarter inches by 4-and-three-quarter inches, just the right size for slipping inside a purse, or man bag, if you will. If your office has a door, you’ll have no problem stashing it when some underling knocks, and if you’re making half a living in a cubicle, it’s small enough to cover with a Manila file folder.

What Mr. Defoe has struck upon is sort of a combination between that Monty Python bit, where Terry Gilliam-animated skyscrapers face off like competing armadas, and the piratical character John Belushi created on the original Saturday Night Live, Captain Ned. This is the self-effacing London-based author’s genius, although he’s quick to note on the back jacket of every book that “you could be forgiven for thinking he’s a bit of a one-trick pony.”

Taking the helm is the Pirate Captain, who generally is more concerned with maintaining his “fantastically glossy and luxuriant beard” than going about the actual work of pirating. Fortunately, his trusted No. 2, the pirate with a scarf, is on board to pick up the slack, along with the pirate in green; the pirate in red; the albino pirate; the pirate with gout; the pirate who loved kittens and sunsets; and Jennifer, who has the distinction of being both the only woman on board and the only pirate with an actual name.

This frolicsome bunch engage in a series of madcap voyages that have so far filled four admittedly smallish volumes: The Pirates in an Adventure With Scientists, The Pirates in an Adventure With Ahab, The Pirates in an Adventure With Communists and The Pirates in an Adventure With Napoleon.

The thing about these adventures—all of which begin with a false tip from Black Bellamy, the Pirate Captain’s nemesis—is they follow neither the laws of physics nor the historical record. Darwin promotes his theory of evolution by dressing up a simian in human clothing and calling the creature a “man-panzee.” In the adventure with Ahab, the pirates sail to Las Vegas to participate in a show tunes contest. Marx is a pampered elitist who hogs all the pillows in the cabin, forcing Engels to sleep topside.

To reveal any more of the content of Mr. Defoe’s novellas would make me a spoiler; suffice to say each adventure is stuffed with witty one-liners and good-humored observations on the human condition. The material never strays too far into risqué territory, which I find refreshing compared to most contemporary comedic fare. There’s even a moral of sorts at the end of each adventure: No matter how incompetent you and your co-workers are, there’s nothing you can do but put your heads together and get on with it, so you might as well have a good time along the way.

Believe me, in the months to come, such advice is going to become exceedingly valuable. But I won’t depress you with all that. I don’t want to rub it in. I’m on vacation and you’re not. Of course, the news isn’t all good for me. I have to come back some day, assuming there’s anything to come back to.