I must confess up front that I am a Titanic tragic. I have read many historical accounts of the Titanic sinking and have studied in some depth, the reports of subsequent enquiries held on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Titanic sank after striking an iceberg on the evening of 14 April 1912. Did the SS Californian, which was the nearest ship to the Titanic, simply look on? First Officer Herbert Stone was in charge of the midnight watch and he saw the distress rockets fired by the Titanic. Stone alerted his Captain, Stanley Lord, who was asleep in the chart room. Captain Lord did nothing, remaining in the chartroom. The Midnight Watch is a work of fiction speculating on what may have happened aboard the SS Californian that fateful evening.
David Dyer’s book, while based on the facts of the tragic sinking, takes a new approach as the story is related by a fictitious Boston reporter, John Steadman. Steadman is known as ‘the body man’, specialising in reporting disasters. Through Steadman, Dyer takes the reader through the tragedy of the sinking from the perspective of the SS California’s crew and a third-class passenger family who perished. Could the SS Californian have done more to save some of the 1500-plus passengers who perished on that still April night?
Steadman makes every effort to uncover the truth and the reader can’t help but be carried along on his journey. Dyer shares with the reader the frustrations and anguish that Steadman feels in his dogged determination to find out the truth. In reality, Lord and Stone sought to hide their role in the disaster but, pursued by journalists as tenacious as the fictional Steadman, and politicians in England and America, their secret was eventually revealed.
Dyer’s narrative focuses on the relationship between Stone and Lord, and not just about whether Captain Lord was right or wrong but whether First Officer Stone should have been more forthright and spoken up instead of following Lord’s lead into ignominy. It is also about the difference between what we believe to be true and the real facts.
This is Dyer’s debut novel and his meticulous research and extensive knowledge of the sea is evident. I look forward to reading subsequent works.
Reviewed by Glyn Crisp
Rating out of 10: 9
Published by: Penguin Australia
Release Date: February 2017
RRP: $32.99 trade paperback, $22.99 paperback, $12.99 eBook