Recently published by Penguin, “The Midnight Watch”, is a debut novel by David Dyer. It is a gripping read from start to finish. “The Midnight Watch” tells the little known story of the SS Californian, a ship which has gone down in history as the ship that saw the Titanic fire off distress rockets, but sat by and did nothing until it was too late. Why her crew did not act on the distress rockets during the crucial midnight watch forms the basis of this novel which is based on historical fact.
The story is told by the character, John Steadman, a reporter for the Boston American, who begins to pursue the truth about what happened when details about the SS Californian and her actions come to light. Steadman painstakingly and aggressively searches for the truth in order to uncover the conspiracy to embellish the truth so that the SS Californian and its crew escape any culpability in contributing to the lives lost that awful night. The author, David Dyer, has worked as a ship’s officer, teacher, writer, and lawyer, and his experience in these professions, the depth of his research, and his wonderful ability to tell a rip-roaring story, without sacrificing credibility to sensation, make this a book you don’t want to put down.
It is frustrating and heartbreaking to read about the accumulation of small and large mistakes made by so many people which ultimately contributed to the demise of over 1500 people. There are the flawed characters in this novel, and Dyer explores their flaws without condemning them – the unfolding story , in this book show that the crew of the SS Californian were human, misguided, perhaps constrained by the hierarchical and autocratic life of a ship which saw people ignoring their gut feelings in deference to the Captain’s orders. In this book, by using actual events and parallel stories to the main story, Dyer brings to life events and the passengers on the Titanic, the men who served on the SS Californian, the crews on the other ships who went to the aid of the Titanic, and the investigations following the disaster. You can smell the ice, see the inky blackness of the freezing Atlantic, and feel the hopelessness of those who are lost.
This is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time, and is a definite recommendation.