Tonkin, Peter 1950- (Peter Francis Tonkin)

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Tonkin, Peter 1950- (Peter Francis Tonkin)


Born January 28, 1950, in Limavady, Londonderry, Northern Ireland; son of Francis Alexander (a Royal Air Force officer) and Evelyn Tonkin; married Charmaine May (a cordon bleu caterer), March 21, 1980. Education: Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, B.A. (with honors), 1973, M.A., 1974. Politics: Conservative. Religion: Church of England.


Home—Royal Tunbridge Wells, England.


Inner London Education Authority, London, England, high school teacher of English, history, and geography, 1975-79; writer, 1979.


Crime Writers Association.


Killer (novel), Coward (New York, NY), 1979.

The Journal of Edwin Underhill (novel), Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1981.

The Action, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 1996.

The Zero Option, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 1997.


The Coffin Ship, Headline (London, England), 1989, Crown (New York, NY), 1990.

The Fire Ship, Headline (London, England), 1990, Crown (New York, NY), 1992.

The Bomb Ship, Headline (London, England), 1993, Trafalgar (North Pomfret, VT), 1995.

Iceberg, Headline (London, England), 1994.

The Leper Ship, Thorndike Press (Thorndike, ME), 1994.

The Pirate Ship, Headline (London, England), 1995, Trafalgar (North Pomfret, VT), 1997.

Meltdown, Trafalgar (North Pomfret, VT), 1996.

Tiger Island, Headline (London, England), 1997.

Hell Gate, Headline (London, England), 1998.

Powerdown, Headline (London, England), 1999.

High Water, Headline (London, England), 2000.

Thunder Bay, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2001.

Titan 10, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2004.

Wolf Rock, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2005.

Resolution Burning, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2006.

Cape Farewell, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2006.

High Wind in Java, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2007.

The Ship Breakers, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2007.


The Point of Death, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2001.

One Head Too Many, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2002.

The Hound of the Borders, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2003.

The Silent Woman, Severn House (Sutton, Surrey, England), 2003.


Peter Tonkin is an action-adventure writer who has authored a series of nautical thrillers and other crime and horror novels. Educated in Northern Ireland, Tonkin worked as a schoolteacher before becoming a full-time writer in 1979. Since then he has used his own extensive travels as background for his adventure stories, also infusing them with current politics and technological innovation. According to Brian Stableford in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, all of Tonkin's works "are unashamedly melodramatic, and it can be argued that none of them is devoid of a significant element of horror."

Tonkin's horror novel The Journal of Edwin Underhill is a first-person account of vampiric metamorphosis. Spurned by his lover, Edwin falls into a pit, where his hand is injured by a stake once used to kill an ancient female vampire. Gradually over the period of a year, Edwin finds himself changing into a vampire himself and he is profoundly ambivalent about the evolution. Stableford wrote: "In becoming a vampire Edwin gradually loses all the stigmata of mortality and insignificance which led to his rejection as a lover…. The procession of diary entries records the displacement of his original personality by another which is far more robust and avidly eager to ‘shrug off vapid melancholia.’" Stableford concluded that The Journal of Edwin Underhill "deserves attention, and some admiration, as a work slightly ahead of its time which is of more than merely historical interest."

Tonkin's nautical thrillers such as The Fire Ship, The Bomb Ship, and The Coffin Ship have proven popular in Great Britain especially. All of them involve seagoing adventure in a variety of vessels and daring exploits pitting the heroes against international terrorists and other evildoers. In The Fire Ship, for instance, wealthy shipping magnates Richard and Robin Mariner take a break from their tropical vacation to foil a high-seas hijacking and restore a steady flow of Persian Gulf oil. A Kirkus Reviews contributor described the story as "brisk, dashing, pleasantly brainless British adventure," adding: "Action always prevails over politics. As it should."

In addition to his "Richard Mariner" books, Tonkin is the author of the "Master of Defense" series, which features such titles as The Point of Death, One Head Too Many, The Hound of the Borders, and The Silent Woman. The books all feature the adventures of Tom Musgrave, a sixteenth-century logician whose nose for solving trouble often brings him into contact with any manner of interesting characters. In One Head Too Many, the action starts when Tom is called upon to rescue a young woman of Dutch origin who has been caught up in a rowdy London crowd engaged in throwing a football around on the Old London Bridge. However, when a severed head is switched for the ball, the crowd becomes hysterical, and Tom steps in to discover the source of the unwelcome substitution. A corpse is located, but the head fails to prove a match, setting off a search for the true body, as well as for the killer responsible for the sudden abundance of mismatched body parts. Tom's investigation has him call upon several acquaintances for assistance, including playwright William Shakespeare. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews observed: "Elizabethan detail, rousing action sequences, sound detection, an audacious solution—everything a fan of historical mysteries could hope for."

The Silent Woman finds Tom Musgrave serving as protector of Lady Margaret, Countess Cotehel, a vulnerable young woman who, as a girl, was raped and rendered mute by the Earl of Essex and eventually hidden away in the local madhouse. Essex later made an attempt on Lady Margaret's life, and it was at that point that Tom rescued the young woman and took her into his protection. Several years later, Lady Margaret believes that she and her young son are being watched, and so, wary of danger, she calls for Tom's assistance once again. However, the messenger she sends is intercepted, and although he manages to reach Tom, the man has been stabbed and is on the verge of death. Tom is barely able to make sense of his blood-coated message. Tom travels to Elfinstone, where Lady Margaret and her son, the Baron Outremer, are supposedly staying, taking with him his young apprentice, Ben Jonson. However, upon arriving, they discover both the Baron and his mother gone, attempting to seek refuge on the Cornish coast at the house of their ancestors. The pair set out on horseback to overtake the party, encountering many interesting people before finally reaching their goal, but danger continues to mount until they ultimately arrive at Cotehel. Only there are they able to finally unravel the secrets that have put the Lady Margaret in such jeopardy. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews remarked of the book that "love, lust, and Elizabethan politics enliven Tonkin's briskly paced puzzle."

Tonkin once told CA: "In spite of the fact that I have traveled widely (in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East), I believe in running counter to the present trend of fictionalized reportage. I believe in imagination as the writer's primary tool, supported by research, of course. If reality gets in the way it is out of place. One does not have to have suffered an experience in order to be able to communicate that experience. Over and above that, there is the unrelenting hard work, the joy of convincing the experienced that you are among their number and of bringing to people who would never have experienced them, passion, excitement, and adventure far beyond the norm."



St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998, pp. 597-598.


Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1992, review of The Fire Ship; November 15, 2002, review of One Head Too Many, p. 1661; November 1, 2003, review of The Silent Woman, p. 1296.