"It had recently come to my attention that I was a bastard and a Negro."
Nautical adventure fans will welcome Campbell’s third novel to feature intrepid Matty Graves (after The War of Knives). In 1800, the 17-year-old Graves, “a bastard and a Negro” despite both parents being white, is recalled to Washington City, where his rank is reduced from acting lieutenant to midshipman, and he’s questioned about his role in a duel between his friend Peter Wickett and another officer. Graves’s fortunes later turn after he’s promoted to lieutenant and given his first command, the schooner Tomahawk. On joining the American squadron in Santo Domingo, he’s ordered to capture an American officer who’s stolen a naval vessel and turned pirate—Peter Wickett. Graves proves equally brave and resourceful at navigating the bureaucratic minefield of the U.S. Navy and at steering a steady course through the treacherous politics of various nations—Spain, France, England, Denmark—vying for power in the Caribbean.
The third novel in the Matty Graves series (after The War of Knives and No Quarter) takes place during the Quasi War of 1798 to 1800, an undeclared naval conflict between France and the United States. Recovering from his ordeal during the slave rebellion on the island of Saint-Dómingue, naval officer Matty Graves is summoned to Washington for questioning about his role in the death of his captain and the sinking of a ship. While not formally accused of wrongdoing, Graves is removed from command and ends up "on the beach." . . . The narrative speeds up when Graves gains command of a ship and an opportunity to redeem himself by catching a notorious pirate. Patient readers will be rewarded with a novel that proves to be eventful and enjoyable. What distinguishes this series from other naval adventure novels is its mixed-race protagonist. This situation is historically accurate (20 percent of all seamen in the American navy were African American at the time) and gives the book an unusual, if somewhat jaundiced, perspective. Recommended for public libraries, especially where Patrick O’Brian and other naval authors are popular.
From start to finish, and from stem to stern, Broos Campbell’s Peter Wicked is carried happily forward by the witty narrator Matty Graves. Acting Lieutenant Graves, in service to the infant U.S. Navy, is recovering from his wounds and imprisonment on Saint-Domingue. This third book in the Matty Graves series begins with Graves contemplating the fact that, as he relates, “It had recently come to my attention that I was a bastard and a Negro.” When he is recalled to America to give an account of the loss of his previous ship and her captain, Lieutenant Graves confronts the planter and government elite, and his own Puritanical relations.
Affairs ashore and glimpses of post-Revolutionary Baltimore and Washington are related with Matty Graves’s unique flair, but a commission involving the honor of a fellow officer and ex-shipmate, and possible piracy and treason, is thrown his way as a task no one else cares to undertake. Peter Wicked is a fine sea story, an adventure complete with nautical detail, sword-fighting fun, and an unconventional love interest. Besides all of this, it has a charming, resourceful and engaging narrator in Lieutenant Graves. Campbell gives us a glimpse of the United States during America’s quasi-war with France, and a feeling that we would be proud to have such a seafaring ancestor as Matty Graves.
Historical Novels Review