The protagonist of Pirate Blood is Johnny LaFitte, a young man who finds himself second to best friend Frank Adams in both academic areas as well as sports. Johnny holds the view that this has more to do with heredity than environment as Frank and many of his privileged friends come from noble families while Johnny’s most notable ancestor was the famous pirate Jean LaFitte. So Johnny isn’t surprised when after university he finds himself a simple motorcycle cop while his friends all live more prestigiously. He tries not to be bitter with this but when one day he pulls over a drunken speeder and it turns out to be Daisy Jukes, a girl he has loved since grade school, he takes it kind of hard. He learns she is engaged to Frank Adams and he’s not sure if it’s the fact that she’s been drinking or that she’s engaged that upsets him the most. This is a nice peak into the mind of Burroughs and what he thinks of women who drink.
The next day the local bank reports a millions gold and securities are missing and one of the tellers is a suspect. Johnny is sent to the local airfield to stop the embezzler from escaping via dirigible and of course it turns out that the thief is another old classmate of Johnny named Bill Perry. When Johnny tries to arrest Perry there is a scuffle and Perry is able to loose the mooring lines and the dirigible lifts off into the air. Perry refuses to land so Johnny dumps all the loot overboard to the authorities waiting below. Not relishing the idea of going to jail Perry steers the craft towards the Pacific Ocean. Johnny is unfamiliar with dirigibles so he is at the mercy of this nitwit robber and soon the two of them find themselves lost over the vast ocean. We get a bit of a cat and mouse game with the dangers of the craft losing altitude and dumping them into the drink, but eventually things come to a head when Perry tries to bite through Johnny’s jugular while he slept. He fails and decides suicide is the best option and jumps overboard.
This leads to the second half of the story as the incredibly sinking dirigible finally dumps Johnny on an island in the middle of nowhere…right in the middle of a pirate fight on the beach. Johnny lands right between the combatants, and shoots two that attack him, the rest of that group flee to their boats leaving Johnny in the hands of the winners. Johnny is captured by the “winners” and is brought back to their island fortress. This pirate chief, named Vulture, was wounded in battle and as Johnny tends to his wounds he learns of what a vile individual he is, the Vulture has been plaguing the shipping lane for years but survives because he leaves no survivors to tell of him and his band of cutthroat’s existence. Johnny learns that those on the beach he shot belonged to a rival pirate faction and his aide in repelling those bastards intrigues the Vulture, and so Johnny is spared. Johnny then meets La Diablesa, the willing mistress of the Vulture. She is basically a sex slave until one day the Vulture will kill her and replace her with a younger model.
This has got to be the darkest story Burroughs ever wrote, and most likely why he never finished it as getting it published would have been tricky. Johnny LaFitte is also one of the more complex characters in Burroughs’ canon as when he joins the Vulture’s band of pirates there isn’t any thought of “just going along” and then escaping. He just accepts that being a pirate was his genetic destiny. He isn’t as ruthless as the Vulture; he enslaves many of those on ships he captures instead of just murdering everyone. Though he does murder a lot of people in this new career. The word “rape” is never used but “make love to” is and as this making love is against an unwilling captive woman…yeah this book is kind of rapey. And that isn’t even the darkest stuff this story has to offer as when Johnny meets up with Daisy Jukes things take a turn for the worse.
Pirate Blood can be found packaged with The Wizards of Venus.