Perkins, (Robert) Wilder 1921-1999
PERKINS, (Robert) Wilder 1921-1999
Born 1921; died May 12, 1999. Education: Harvard University, graduated, 1943.
Business executive and management consultant.
Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Hoare and the Headless Captains, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2000.
Hoare and the Matter of Treason, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Perkins' novels have been adapted to audio CD-ROM.
Wilder Perkins wrote three historical mystery novels that fall into the same genre as C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series and works by Patrick O'Brian and Alexander Kent. Perkins' series is set in the early 1800s and features Bartholomew Hoare of His Majesty George III's Royal Navy. Lieutenant Hoare is a hail and hearty seaman, except that, while serving the Crown against the French in a high-seas battle, a bullet to the throat crushed his larynx. Now Hoare can do no more than whisper, which means he can no longer command a fighting vessel. This is a severe blow to one who grew up in a naval family. He is subsequently assigned ashore at Portsmouth under the port's admiral. Perkins' character Sir Hugh Abercrombie tells Hoare: "You're the Admiral's deus ex machina, then. His Hercules. The man he uses to drag his chestnuts out of the fire. Good record at sea, respectable navy family, no voice. Pity about that. You look as though you were otherwise fit for command. But the fleet's loss is the Service's gain. Perhaps."
Hoare's penchant for detection and solving complex crimes, however, comes to the fore in Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities. With the underlying current of Napoleon Bonaparte's exploits swirling in the background, Lieutenant Hoare is charged with investigating the murder of a ship's captain, defends a sailor wrongly accused of the crime, rescues a woman from two thugs (one of whom winds up murdered), and experiences other swashbuckling adventures. Rex E. Klett, writing in Library Journal, called this debut "a good historical mystery for seaworthy fans," while Booklist critic Margaret Flanagan called it "a suitably salty tale featuring an appealing cast of crusty characters."
The plot of Hoare and the Headless Captains is darker and more complicated than that of Perkins' first novel. As Napoleon controls France and threatens to overtake England, Hoare is promoted to captain after infiltrating a French espionage ring. Although not yet permitted to go to sea, he is given the responsibility of making seaworthy the secret intelligence-gathering Admiralty yacht Royal Duke. While its motley crew of women and men have special talents in breaking French code, they, too, must be made seaworthy. Then, the discovery of two decapitated high-ranking naval officers at the Nine Stones Circle, a sight known for occult occurrences, places Hoare at the head of an investigation team. However, it is not clear whether the murders are part of a cultist ritual or the result of a French Bonapartist plot. While working on the mystery, Hoare remains embroiled in a romance with the widowed Eleanor Graves, a friend of writer Jane Austen. Perkins uses factual maritime details to flush out his story. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that while the author emulates Austen's style with his "witty wordplay and attention to the nuances of British society … his eccentric characters are all his own."
As Hoare and the Matter of Treason begins, Hoare has so impressed the naval higher-ups that he is now in command of top-secret state and military matters and of the fleet's smallest ship, The Royal Duke. Immediately following his marriage to the widow Graves—the ceremony is appropriately conducted upon the Royal Duke—Hoare is shipped off to London as head of a fleet on special assignment to find a character who supposedly has information about a conspiracy against the Crown. Eleanor, refusing to be left behind, unexpectedly shows up in London with an orphan the pair plan to adopt. Hoare quickly discovers that all involved in the investigation of a treasonous coup by the Bonapartists are in serious danger. In fact, his wife and ward are kidnapped, and an appropriately hazardous plan evolves to secure their release. Of this last Hoare adventure, a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote: "Despite sometimes quirky sentence structure, this novel … is a solidly entertaining blend of period adventure and mystery." Although Perkins died just after finishing this last installment, preventing any further Hoare stories, Flanagan felt that Hoare and the Matter of Treason offers "a suitably suspenseful conclusion to a dynamic adventure series."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 1998, Margaret Flanagan, review of Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities, p. 728; January 1, 2000, Margaret Flanagan, review of Hoare and the Headless Captains, p. 256; May 1, 2001, Margaret Flanagan, review of Hoare and the Matter of Treason, p. 1638.
Library Journal, December, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Hoare and the Portsmouth Atrocities, p. 161.
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1999, review of Hoare and the Headless Captains, p. 67; January 29, 2001, review of Hoare and the Matter of Treason, p. 68.*