As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction.
Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew, but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. The Midnight Watch is a powerful and dramatic debut novel--the result of many years of research in Liverpool, London, New York, and Boston, and informed by the author's own experiences as a ship's officer and a lawyer.
David Dyer spent many years as a lawyer at the London legal practice whose parent firm represented the Titanic’s owners in 1912. He has also worked as a cadet and ship’s officer on a wide range of merchant vessels, having graduated with distinction from the Australian Maritime College. His worldwide research and access to countless documents and artifacts has informed and inspired his work in The Midnight Watch. He currently teaches English in Sydney.
On the night of April 15, 1912, Captain Stanley Lord of the SS Californian slept in his chartroom while the RMS Titanic sank as few as eight miles away. While the tired captain snoozed on his settee, young 2nd Officer Herbert Stone stood the middle watch. He observed eight white rockets explode above a ship visible in the distance. He told the captain twice, and was told in turn to signal with the Morse lamp. Neither Lord nor Stone did anything more, showing a distinctly curious lack of curiosity for rockets exploding at sea. This disinterest, this indifference to a jarring lurch away from the normal, is one of the enduring mysteries of Titanic’s sinking. Indeed, on a night filled with the inexplicable, cloaked in myth and legend, the enigma of Captain Lord casts the most looming shadow.
I’ve thought a lot about Captain Lord. And I mean a lot. When I was fourteen, I started writing a novel about the Titanic. I finished a week before I went away to college. As soon as I punched the final period, I hit the print button. No proofing. No editing. Not even a run through the spell check. The printer groaningly spit out the 620 single-spaced Microsoft Word pages that comprised my magnum opus. I stuffed those pages into a clear plastic page holders, and fitted them into a massive three ring binder. A short time later, I left home for essentially the last time, carrying my tome with me (you know, as a conversation starter). During my college years, my parents moved twice. The disks that contained my nautical version of War and Peace were lost; the computer was tossed. All that remained of years’ worth of labor was my single printed copy, which resembled the building codes for New York City.
My contribution to Titanic's literary canon. It is the only known copy...which is probably for the best
I looked over the passages on Captain Lord to see how I had interpreted the man. Surprisingly, I hadn’t really explained him at all. Of course, I was a teenager when I wrote this thing, and I didn't know crap about people. At the same time, I’d gone to some effort to glean the internal motivations of everyone from Captain Smith to Irish immigrants to the lowliest coal trimmer. Captain Lord eluded me, as he has many others. I wrote about what he did, without ever broaching why.
That is the mystery David Dyer attempts to solve in The Midnight Watch.
The Midnight Watch styles itself as a novel about the Californian and the Titanic. It’s important at the outset, however, to state that we barely step foot on the settling teak decks of the luxurious liner. We don’t meet a grandfatherly Captain Smith or square-jawed Lightoller; we don’t mingle with a nattily dressed and fatalistically-minded Ben Guggenheim; we don’t watch couples split apart on the Boat Deck, or in the case of Isidor and Ida Strauss, determine to stay together. We never meet John Jacob Astor, though we get some discussion of his corpse. If your expectation is to be thrust into the midst of the most famous shipwreck of all time, you are bound to be disappointed. This is not that kind of book.
The Midnight Watch is a forensic investigation into the soul of a man whose lasting sin was to do...nothing.
The SS Californian. Crash-stopped in an ice field, she stood still while her deck officers enjoyed the light-show put on by Titanic's Cotton Powder Company, Ltd. socket distress signals
The Midnight Watch is told in two different narrative tracks. The major storyline is the first person account of the fictional John Steadman, a reporter for the non-fictional Boston American. Steadman is the “body man” at the daily tabloid. His niche is to wring human interest stories from the dead. When he begins telling his story, the Titanic has already touched the bottom of the Atlantic, and he is faced with more bodies than he’s ever encountered in his career. Steadman goes looking for his story, and runs almost by accident into Captain Lord and the officers of the Californian. He is immediately suspicious of the close-lipped captain and his anxious second officer. He begins to tug on a loose thread that will lead him to the revelation that the Californian had front row seats to Titanic’s rocket-studded demise.
The other storyline is presented in the third-person, focusing on Herbert Stone. Dyer covers Stone’s fateful “midnight watch,” when he watched eight white rockets streak skyward and explode over a vessel that Stone himself said “looks very queer out of the water – her lights look queer.” Stone is later drawn into Lord’s conspiracy of silence, before that veil is pierced by donkeyman Ernest Gill, who also happened to see Titanic’s rockets. Both Stone and Lord then had to endure the inquiries that opened in the wake of the disaster. These proceedings are covered by Steadman.
The distant Lord remains Sphinx-like, shielded by his own prideful rectitude. The impressionable Stone, on the other hand, is a man in crisis. Steadman sees Stone as his portal to Captain Lord. As Steadman pursues his story, at increasing cost to his personal and professional life, his path – and storyline – eventually crosses with both sailors.
I didn't know quite what to expect when I picked up The Midnight Watch. I was frankly a bit worried. Dyer is a former attorney with an obsession with the Titanic. I’m also an attorney with a Titanic obsession. And my book is terrible!
Turns out, I need to stop projecting.
Dyer is a pretty fantastic writer. This isn’t a good “Titanic novel.” It’s a good novel, end stop. He creates compelling characters in Steadman, Stone, and the elusive Lord. He does a marvelous job of unobtrusively baking the history into the fiction. He has a sailor’s perception of the sea, and some of his best moments take place with Stone during his long, cold watch on the Californian’s bridge.
This is a taut tale, told in a lean and efficient 319 pages. The upside is that this reads quick. The downside is that you lose a bit of detail. Certain ancillary plotlines, specifically Steadman’s relationship with his estranged suffragette wife (a character who seems to have walked in from a Sarah Waters novel) don’t land with much impact.
For Titanic fans out there, it’s worth noting that Dyer has no interest in litigating the Californian controversy. There are – for the uninitiated out there – a faction of Titanic buffs known as “Lordites” for their fierce (and bewildering) defense of Captain Lord. They argue that the Californian was 20 miles away; that Titanic and Californian never saw each other; that an unidentified mystery ship interposed itself between the two steamers; and that Captain Smith’s birth certificate was forged. (Okay, I made that last one up). If you go on Captain Lord’s Wikipedia page, you will find that it has been carefully edited by Lordites who have misrepresented various facts, including the results of the 1992 Marine Accident Board Investigation, to support their hero. (Who, more likely than not, would have despised their very existences).
Captain Stanley Lord, a man fascinatingly unconcerned about rockets bursting midair, in the middle of the night
Dyer does not give this contrarian movement even a sidelong glance. He has no doubt that Stone saw the Titanic and that Lord was derelict in his response. (Full disclosure: this is a position I share). Accordingly, his chief interest is in penetrating Lord’s psyche to reveal the decision-making process that led him to continue a catnap while 1,500 men, women, and children went into freezing black water at 2 a.m., 400 miles from the coast of Newfoundland, and within visual range of his ship. He doesn’t give a straight answer, so much as he teases out a subtle theory involving the interplay between Lord and Stone.
One of the literary conceits that Dyer allows himself is to make Herbert Stone into a Melville fan. Throughout the novel, there are references to Moby Dick, with Stone seeing himself as Starbuck to Lord’s Ahab.
When I read this, though, I didn't think of Melville but of Conrad. This feels like a Joseph Conrad novel. It’s so easy to imagine swapping out Steadman for Marlowe. "The ship, this ship, our ship, is the moral symbol of our life", Conrad wrote in Notes on Life and Letters. This could be the thesis statement of The Midnight Watch. Stone quails before the moral implications of his inaction. Lord is able to go on as before, seemingly untouched.
It’s easy to paint Captain Lord as a villain. Historian Daniel Allen Butler has gone so far as to diagnosis him as a sociopath. I tend to chalk his behavior up to a bad day. Maybe he was tired. Maybe his mind was foggy. Maybe under different circumstances, he pops right up when Stone calls him, orders the wireless operator to put on his headset, and becomes the hero of the hour.
Lord’s reticence upon discovering Titanic’s fate is incontrovertible evidence of his guilty soul. He knew he’d cocked it up. But then something changed in him. He changed his narrative.
Humans are amazing at rationalizing their own actions. When I think back to my biggest mistakes, I see how I managed to justify every step along the way. Even when I’m totally wrong about something, I can convince myself I’m correct. I think Lord did this very thing. He lied to himself so often that the lie became truth and the truth became his shield. I think he died sheathed in his own righteous innocence, convinced he was the last victim of the RMS Titanic.
4.5★ Who knew? Who knew that there was another ship nearby that might have been able to warn the Titanic or save her passengers? In fact, it seems likely they may have been saved.
The movies of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic focus on the flawed magnificence of the ship, the wealthy passengers on the ship’s maiden voyage, and the iceberg that caused the disaster. But the missed communications were the real cause.
Not miscommunications. Missed. Overlooked. Overruled.
The Californian’s wireless operator’s warning was hampered, the second officer, who was on the midnight watch and reported the distress rockets, was given short shrift by the captain, who had been asleep, and the Titanic . . . well, we all know what happened next. Nearer My God to Thee.
At the time, there were news reports and a U.S. Senate inquiry into the catastrophe, on which this fictional account is based. Fictional, in that John Steadman and his interaction with newspapers and crew members is imagined. But the facts are true of which vessels were where and which messages were sent when, in spite of the round robin of finger-pointing.
And more horrifyingly, it is true that there were about the same number of wealthy, influential adult men who were saved in lifeboats as there were lower-class children who drowned.
No, that’s not quite right. The victims probably only froze to death, rather than drown struggling for air, which is of small comfort to the families waiting for them. Think how many children could have been in the lifeboats instead of all those big men.
The 1% will prevail and Devil take the hindmost.
The author worked as a lawyer at the firm that represented the Titanic’s owners after the disaster, so he had access to a wealth of material about the case. (His website has more information available.)
But back to the excellent story. John Steadman is a fictional newsman who seems to have made a career out of following the bodies after a tragedy. He became something of a minor celebrity after the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in NYC, where so many young women died.
When he gets wind of something having happened to the Titanic, he races, not with all the other reporters to where the survivors are being brought, but to Boston, to meet the Californian, which is supposed to have retrieved bodies from the ocean.
But mysteriously, the Californian found no bodies! Steadman gets curious. He is told to go to the captain’s "little press conference” and get a “nice little story”. Steadman goes.
“Then I saw them: four men standing perfectly still, facing the crush, their backs against the bulkhead. They were very clearly Englishmen—tall, stiff and reserved. . . there was something about these men—their stillness, perhaps, or maybe their unimpeachable solidarity—that told me at once that something strange had happened on this ship, something more than ‘a nice little story.’"
We move back and forth between Steadman and his family, the captain of the Californian, the second officer, the Marconi man (wireless operator), and some of the crew and their personal back stories. The thing that struck me is the youth of the main characters. The captain is only 34, the second officer is a “baby-faced timid man in his early twenties.” And the wireless operator is fresh out of Marconi school with visions of being a hero someday.
Steadman gets to know the various crew members over the years, and in old age, he follows them up again. He says other people lost interest in the controversy when the enormity of the Great War struck the world only a couple of years later.
He finds the buck-passing remains, but he is convinced of the truth of the matter and has convinced me. He will convince you, too. Bullies and bullying: the cause of so much grief in the world.
Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for a copy for review. An amazing story. Who knew, indeed?
The midnight watch: a time of loneliness, demons and trances. P215
As the Californian sailed through the ice, the decision was made to stop – it was 14th April 1912 and not far before midnight. The ice was thick and in the darkness the risk of running into an iceberg was high. Captain Lord decided it would be prudent to wait until morning before taking the steamer through the ice. Second Officer Herbert Stone took over for the midnight watch and at the beginning and during his watch he saw eight rockets firing from a distant ship across the ice. When Stone reported his sighting of the rockets to his captain he was told to attempt Morse code to find out who they were and what they wanted…
When the Boston American newspaper broke the news of the unsinkable but foundering Titanic, John Steadman was the reporter who dug his teeth into the story. As he learned of the terrible tragedy, he also learned the Carpathia was steaming to New York with survivors. With the initial reports having said everyone on board the Titanic had survived, the shock of knowing that wasn’t the case had the whole country; the whole world reeling. Steadman therefore decided he would meet the Californian when she docked in Boston with the bodies they had retrieved from the site of the tragedy.
Joining the reporters and seeing the captain and his second officer resolutely denying any knowledge of the Titanic’s struggle to save its passengers and crew, Steadman sensed a cover-up. And so his journey for the truth began. From Boston’s shore to London he searched for answers; Steadman was determined to have Captain Lord admit the truth. Would the fifteen hundred souls who had lost their lives on that cold and icy night ever know retribution for the failure of the Californian to act?
Based on fact, The Midnight Watch by Aussie author David Dyer is a fascinating and involved mystery of the sinking of that unsinkable ship – the Titanic. Meticulously researched, the characters are the actual people involved in the tragedy. John Steadman, reporter and narrator of The Midnight Watch, is fictional, as are a few other characters, but in the main they are drawn from history. I was completely engrossed having never heard of the Californian or its proximity to the Titanic. The thought of the change in history; the fact that many if not all of those lives would most likely have been saved, had only the Californian obeyed the rules of the sea – to respond to rockets as they were a call of distress. David Dyer has more information on his website – http://www.daviddyer.com.au/the-calif...
Most highly recommended.
With thanks to Penguin Random House for this copy to read in exchange for my honest review.
This was just so,so for me. It was fascinating reading about the Titanic from a different perspective, however, it just seemed to go on and on. I found myself bored towards the middle. I couldn't help but be reminded of Col. Nathan R. Jessep in the film A Few Good Men when trying to relate to Captain Lord. Not a bad read, just could've been shortened. 3.5 stars.
Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, the unsinkable ship, hit and sunk by an iceberg on it's maiden voyage. Some may also recall the SS Californian, the ship closest to the Titanic that failed to respond to its distress rockets and arrived too late to save anyone. This book explores that story in an almost journalistic way, trying to understand the actions and personalities of those in charge of the Californian at the time.
Using newspaper reports and accounts from the US Senate and British Inquiries into the disaster, David Dyer has crafted a fictional account of what he thinks could have happened. Stanley Lord, the Captain, Herbert Stone, the Second Officer taking the midnight watch when the tragedy occurred and Cyril Evans the wireless operator, are all real characters while journalist John Steadman is ficticious. He has previously specialised in telling the stories of victims of disasters so when he hears about the disaster on the Titanic goes looking for ships carrying bodies. That the Californian arrives at Boston without any bodies, despite being at the scene of the disaster, puzzles him and his newspaper nose tells him there is a story to be sniffed out.
And what a fascinating tale is is too! Stanley Lord had stopped the Californian for the night after sailing into an ice field, deciding they would need daylight to see their way through it. The lights of another ship were visible in the distance, also apparently stopped. Herbert Stone, taking the midnight watch was told to keep an eye on it and when he saw it firing eight white rockets reported them to Lord. Although white rockets signalled distress at sea, Lord decided to do nothing and the rest is history. Dyer tries to delve into the psyche of a captain who could ignore such signals. Lord might not have known that the other ship was the Titanic with over 2200 souls on board but surely he should have answered the distress calls anyway?
This is a well written book that tells a good historical resconstruction of a lesser told side of a disaster that still resounds with us today.
This is an exciting and at times (toward the end of the book) emotionally draining, work of fiction retelling of the story of the Titanic - but largely from the point of view of the Californian, the ship that never went to help them.
This story is told from the points of view of John Steadman, a reporter working on the case who becomes obsessed with understanding the reason the Californian never responded to the Titanic's distress rockets. Steadman is a fictional characters but he makes a good vehicle for the story, despite this it is Steadman that lost me more than once in the first parts of the book. I cannot quite rate this as five stars, the ending is brilliant and makes up for the dithers of the early part but still.
I found the whole 'you will be fired from the newspaper if you pursue this story' theme, annoying. It is an exciting story it didn't need to contort into that sort of extra personal sacrifice/dynamic tension. The addition of a suffragette daughter and wife, well it sets it in it's times, but again, I did not feel it advances the story and I got impatient with this part. This writing however, with it's dramatic tension and background will probably appeal to many people.
The interpretation of what we will never really know; why the Californian did nothing, I actually found the human explanation likely and quite touchingly sad. The descriptions of night at sea were also incredibly evocative of the loneliness and isolation that one can feel and how the things you know, you trained for, they can save you and others. But the isolation can breed uncertainty, so I found the slow buildup of events fascinating in that way.
The research and the historical detail were amazing, and the representation of the inquiries both in America and England were brilliant. The last chapter, Eight White Rockets where Dyer (as Steadman) tells the story of the sinking through the eyes of a single steerage class family; completely brilliant!
Since this is a fictionalized account of a true event, I can't review this book properly without spoiling a bit of it for you. So stop right now if you don't know that the Titanic sank.
Even more than 100 years after the fact, people are still reading about the Titanic. Authors are still writing about it. It might not have been possible if it wasn't for one man, Stanley Lord.
Stanley Lord was the captain of a small tramp steamer, SS Californian (6223 grt; why David Dyer never mentions the ship's weight (in this case, volume) is beyond me. You couldn't tell how big or small a ship is without it, could you? But this is more a personal thing. I have to know the dimensions and weight of a ship I am reading about).
Captain Stanley Lord
So, on the night of recklessly sailing under imagination that nothing bad could happen to such a big ship, Titanic hit an iceberg. Before it did, Californian's Marconi wireless operator, Cyril Evans, sent a message for ships in vicinity to warn them that the Californian was surrounded by ice. Titanic's reply, "Shut up shut up shut up I'm working Cape Race". By working Cape Race, what the wireless operator on Titanic, Jack Philips, actually meant was that he was transmitting messages for his first class passengers (for shits and giggles). Piqued, the Marconi operator of Californian went to sleep.
Stanley Lord, the captain of the Californian was on the bridge at that time. He had been there for 17 hours straight. At 12 o'clock, second officer Herbert Stone came to the bridge for his midnight watch (12 to 4). The captain showed him a ship a few miles away (supposedly Titanic) and told him to keep a watch on it. I should also mention that Lord had already ordered Californian to stop for the night as they were surrounded by an ice field. Then Lord went down to his cabin to get some sleep.
Second Officer Herbert Stone
Meanwhile Titanic had already struck an iceberg (before 12 o'clock), so they fired a white colored distress rocket (as per maritime laws). Stone immediately saw it. He didn't contact his captain. Titanic fired a total of 8 rockets that night. After the sixth one, Stone reluctantly contacted his captain and said that the other ship was firing rockets. The captain asked him whether they were company signals. Stone said he wasn't sure. Captain told him to make sure by contacting the ship with Morse (lamp, not wireless). Stone tried, but he was unable to get a reply. The captain of the Californian was told about the rockets three times that night. He didn't wake his Marconi operator. He didn't come up to the bridge. Stone didn't try to convince his captain to come up to the bridge. As a result, 1500 people died. The two ships were so close that if Stanley Lord had tried to contact the other ship on that night immediately, it is possible that nobody on the Titanic would have died. So what actually went down in history as one of the most awful tragedies at sea in peacetime, might have just ended up being an acute embarrassment only for the ship owners. Nothing else. Your unsinkable ship sank! Everybody had to be rescued by a little ship. Ha ha ha!
But that didn't happen. And why it might not have happened that night is the basis of this book by David Dyer. The chapters alternate between first person and third person narratives. The first person narrator is a fictional character created by Dyer, Steadman, who is a reporter. Steadman has created his niche in reporting on the morbid aspects of a tragedy. Dead bodies, to be precise. Steadman, bit by bit, learns that something went wrong on that night on the Californian, so he starts chasing that part of the story.
The chapters written in third person describes the events that happened on the Californian. Here, the author, David Dyer, shows his writing chops and really brings the two main personalities of Stanley Lord and Herbert Stone to life. Dyer writes about Stone's physically abusive father, and also about Lord's partially hidden contempt for Stone. Dyer also follows the inquiries held immediately after the disaster, both in Washington and London. The statements given by the people involved in the tragedy to the inquiries are included verbatim.
David Dyer, aware that none of the third class passengers got any reportage after the tragedy, through his reporter Steadman, provides a heart-rending (but fictionalized) account of a real family of 11 that died that night in the freezing waters of the Atlantic.
But what really frustrates a reader is the question that why the Californian didn't respond to Titanic's distress signals. Dyer, though has tried his best, couldn't provide a clear-cut answer. Because there isn't one.
But the author strongly suggests that as a result of his personal dislike of Second Officer Herbert Stone, Captain Stanley Lord didn't take the warning seriously. He wanted to test his officer. He wanted Stone to earn his keep first, so to speak. On the other hand, Herbert Stone seemed to have even less confidence in himself than the Captain had in him (but to be fair, Stone was not incompetent).
At the press conference and at the inquiries, Stanley Lord treated his failure to respond as a mere technicality, as if the loss of 1500 lives meant nothing. He showed no remorse, or guilt and didn't even seem sad (at least in public. It might be possible that he was just trying to save his face, thinking that anything he did after all those people died wasn't going to bring them back anyways).
The events of the Californian in relation with the Titanic would always make one think about certain things:
Why did Herbert Stone waited for 6 rockets to be fired before informing his captain?
Why did Stanley Lord asked him if they were company signals, even though everyone knew that white rockets only meant a cry for help?
Why didn't Herbert Stone admit that they weren't company signals when asked by his captain?
Why did Lord didn't wake his wireless operator to contact the ship in distress?
And at last, in defence of Lord and the Californian, one should also consider:
What would have happened if Titanic's wireless operator had immediately reported to the bridge that Californian had transmitted that they were surrounded by ice? (And this was not a singular warning. Other ships sent messages in the same vein).
Stanley Lord had stayed on duty for 17 hours straight and then went to rest in his cabin. Was it possible that due to lack of sleep his mind wasn't able to fully process the information that was relayed to him?
There is no way now to find any clear answers. But what one can do is read this book. It definitely adds something more to the Titanic lore.
There have been many novels written about Titanic, but it is rare to find something which looks at events from a different angle. However, this is certainly an unusual look at the disaster, which centres on the actions of the S.S. Californian on the night Titanic went down. For those who are not familiar with what happened, the Californian was actually the nearest ship to Titanic that night, but it was the RMS Carpathia who reached the site of the disaster first and rescued any survivors.
The novel begins on the S.S. Californian, where we are introduced to the crew on board. It is known that the Californian had tried to warn nearby ships that they were in heavy ice and had taken the precaution of stopping for the night. It is also known that Titanic’s wireless operator had told the Californian wireless operator to stop blocking his signal; although, as the Californian wireless operator later says in this book, his virtually telling him to be quiet, was quite normal among wireless operator’s on different ships. Having felt he had done his job, the Californian’s wireless operator went off to bed.
Still, there was still the second officer of the Californian; on the bridge and on the midnight watch of the title. This is obviously fiction and, so there are some differences to the results of a later inquiry into what happened that night. In this novel, it is Second Officer Herbert stone who spies the distress rockets from what he believes to be a large ship. Captain Lord, although contacted, fails to act and, when the ship finally does go to investigate, it is too late to render any assistance and Carpathia has already picked up any survivors from the stricken ship.
Central to this novel is a journalist called John Steadman. A man whose young baby son died, leaving to the breakup of his marriage; Steadman is a man who looks to drink, and to the dead, for solace. Having made something of a name for himself writing about disasters and death, the story of Titanic, when it breaks, leads him to travel to where the unglamorous, Californian docks. He believes the ship should have bodies and is hoping to write a story around them. What he finds is a ship that has a conflicting story about how close they were to the disaster, a sense of nervousness among the crew and absolutely no bodies…
Steadman though, can spot a story and uncovers what happened on that night. His final story tells not only the story of the Californian, but that of a third class family and what happened to them on Titanic. This was a gripping novel, with excellent characterisation and a good sense of place and time. Steadman, and one or other characters in the novel, are fictional; but, of course, the events of that night were all too real. I felt this was an excellent read, which has much to offer book clubs, as there is so much to discuss. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
So we've all heard the story of the sinking of the Titanic (even if our only exposure was through Kate & Leo)- but did you know that the historical record shows that many more lives could have been saved if only a nearby ship, the Californian, had responded to the Titanic's distress signals?
David Dyer's impressive debut novel offers a plausible retelling of these events. Brimming with details from official reports, newspaper accounts, and other evidence, this meticulously researched novel not only offers us an account of what happened, but illustrates how conflicting psychologies, miscommunication, and misunderstanding may converge with tragic results.
What Happened: The night of April 14-15, 1912, as the Titanic was sinking, it sent out eight white rockets, a known distress signal, to a ship it observed moored nearby (within 20 miles): the Californian. Meanwhile, on this other vessel, the second officer reported rocket sightings to his captain, who was below deck in his cabin. The captain gruffly replied that he wanted more information, then returned to bed, as the second officer considered his duty done, and took no further actions. And so, 1500 people that most agree could have been saved, died.
Dyer's Approach: Dyer weaves a masterful story that maintains tension by focusing on characters' psychology; the essential question here is not, what happened, although that in itself is quite fascinating and accurately portrayed, but, why did it happen? WHY would a respected, resourceful, tested leader like the captain stay below deck as his second officer relayed spotting rockets? WHY would a second officer, so ardently passionate about his calling, capitulate to the situation without taking further action? WHY didn't somebody DO something?
The answers The Midnight Watch offers (or plausible explanations in the very least) are profoundly complex and as old as the story of people. There are no villains here - not even the captain - rather, there are only conflicting personalities, born of different backgrounds, with diverging dispositions, who do not understand each other, who do not listen, who do not always think about potential catastrophic consequences to a moment's inaction. It is a sad story indeed, because it is all too common. Yes, in this instance, these men's momentary exhaustion, exasperation with each other, and unwillingness to listen led to consequences affecting the lives of 1500 people. But much more broadly than that, it seems like this is the story of humankind-both micro and macroscopic, period: conflicts born of misunderstandings, ill-will bred of miscommunication, hate and cowardice born of fear…
Other good stuff: The writing is beautiful - not mind-blowingly creative, but moving, poignant, and not at all self-conscious or awkward. Also, I loved the angle and other historical details: chapters alternate between the Californian's crew (third person) and a journalist in NYC/Boston writing about the events (first person). In the process, we learn a bit about the publishing world, reporting, and about life in Boston and on a ship during that era. There's Morse, excitement over telegraphs, and even a bit about a zealous Congress eager to investigate.
Conclusion: A mesmerizing tale, a masterful psychological inquiry and meticulously researched historical retelling.
I liked pretty much everything about this book, and even loved parts of it (ah, the psychological explanation!). But I reserve 5 star ratings for books I find particularly genius, creative, masterpieces of their genre, or important in some other way. The Midnight Watch is excellent historical fiction, but I wouldn't necessarily put it on my list of books to absolutely insist that others read.
* I received my copy via St. Martin's Press & Netgalley. All opinions are honest and solely my own.
The Midnight Watch is the first novel by Australian teacher and author, David Dyer. While the story of the sinking of the SS Titanic in April 1912 will be familiar to most people, the part played in the drama by the master and crew of the SS Californian is probably less well-known. While it is argued about, many accept that the Californian was the ship closest to Titanic when she sank; was, in fact, within sight of Titanic, and did not react when Titanic fired off eight distress rockets at five-minute intervals, except to signal with the Morse lamp. Nor did they try to contact the Titanic via wireless.
Dyer tells the story of what probably happened on the Californian that night, what the master and the crew did, and what occurred on their arrival in Boston, as well as their testimonies at the subsequent US Senate Inquiry in Washington DC and the British Inquiry in London. His narrator is John Steadman, a fictional journalist for the Boston American, whose story was instrumental in forcing master and crew to appear before the Inquiries.
The latter section of the book is a story titled Eight White Rockets, which Steadman has written as “an account the sea tragedy of the Titanic and the Sage Family”, an actual family of eleven which perished in the sinking. Dyer’s story is historical fiction but is based on fact. Many of the characters he fills out for the reader actually existed, and much of what he describes is backed up by witness accounts. Some of it is likely to leave the reader gasping.
Dyer’s expertise in this field is apparent on every page. It should be noted that he spent many years as a lawyer at the London legal practice whose parent firm represented the Titanic’s owners in 1912. He has also worked as a cadet and ship’s officer on a wide range of merchant vessels, having graduated with distinction from the Australian Maritime College. His talent as an author ensures that this already-fascinating story takes on a human aspect. As well as being interesting and informative, this is a moving and captivating read.
The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian is a fictional novel written based on the facts of the tragedy that happened on April 14, 1912 with the loss of 1500 lives when the Titanic ran into an iceberg and sunk. A lot of the facts and characters are true with a bit of embellishment on some of the story.
The novel focuses on the Californian, a ship that was the closest to the Titanic at the time of the tragedy but did not respond to the distress flares that were sent up. A journalist that specialized in writing up stories of death and tragedy is determined to get to the truth of what happened that night and why more lives couldn't have been saved.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a sucker for picking up books based on true events and the story of the Titanic is no exception. What I truly enjoyed with this novel was it focused on a different angle than the one you usually see. The Californian with it's crew had stopped for the night very near where the Titanic hit and had even sent warnings over the radio that the ice was bad but they never responded and helped when the tragedy happened.
One thing I can't say about this novel is that I loved the characters, it was impossible not to really be totally disgusted with the events and the crew on the Californian especially Caption Lord. Of course when you're reading about an event where 1500 lives are lost and think that maybe something could have been done to change the outcome then it's understandable to not like this crew.
Otherwise, the novel was well written and certainly and interesting read. Would recommend checking this one out if you enjoy fiction based on true events.
I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Midnight Watch provides us with a beautifully written, compelling, and moving account of the failure of the Californian, a fellow White Star Line ship, to respond to the distress signals of the Titanic in those fateful early morning hours of April 15, 1912. Eight individual white rockets indicating distress were fired from the deck of Titanic. Second Officer Herbert Stone, of the Californian, reported this to Captain Stanley Lord and Lord chose to stay in bed, doing absolutely nothing about it! To make matters worse, he lied about and continued to deny any responsibility for his lack of action for his entire life.
David Dyer has certainly done the research here in terms of the gathering of historical information. But this book is so much more than that. He gives us the hardworking, hard-drinking, tenacious Boston reporter Steadman. Steadman is determined to expose the truth, give voice to the victims, and uncover why the Californian, the only real hope at minimizing or even preventing loss of life, failed to give aid for hours while only a few miles away. Steadman is a complex, well-developed character. Though not perfect, he gave me someone to root for, someone willing to risk his job and his skin in the name of justice. (If only Herbert Stone had been that strong...) The author does a fabulous job in bringing the crew members of Californian to life and weaving the historical facts in seamlessly with portions of the story that are partially or completely fictionalized. The Story of the Sage family, mother, father, and nine children, all of whom perished in the Titanic, brought me to tears and reminded me of those heart-wrenching scenes of the 1997 film Titanic.
I hadn't been aware of this failure of epic proportions and I'm amazed at how little attention history has given to this aspect of the history of the Titanic tragedy. I was both saddened and infuriated with the characters and events responsible in this book. I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves great historical fiction but it is a must-read for those of us who, like the author, have been Titanic obsessed since, like, forever.
Thanks to St. Martin's Press via NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I am a Titanic tragic. The sinking has fascinated me since 1976, the year I was married. Soon after the wedding I lost my engagement ring for twenty four hours whilst I was working in the second biggest pub in the London. Can you guess where I found it? Yep, in the pages of the 1976 illustrated edition of Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember. In 1997 just a week or two before I left Mr Engagement Ring after twenty years of marriage, there was a notice in the paper about the death of Edith Haisman, one of the oldest survivors of the Titanic who was fifteen at the time of the sinking. Through some weird, illogical reasoning I felt this was a sign for me to let go of my marriage (along with a lot of other signs of course) and that’s why the Titanic tragedy is a little part of who I am. Along with the fact that it sank on my Grandmother’s tenth birthday. David Dyer is obviously very attached to the tragedy as well and he knows his stuff. He has lived and breathed Titanic since he was four years old. But of course there is another disaster that most people don’t realise happened that night as well - the Californian’s failure to come to the Titanic’s rescue and this is what The Midnight Watch is all about. In any major disaster whether it be an airline crash, an explosion or a sinking of the world’s largest ship there is always a chain of events that create the disaster - a damning list of what ifs. Most of us know the Titanic’s list. But the Californian has a list as well. With David Dyer’s very generous and fair characterisations of both the Second Officer Herbert Stone and the Captain Stanley Lord we discover how the tragedy unfolded on the ship whose lights could be seen by passengers on board the Titanic that fateful night. Interspersed with the events of that midnight watch and enquiries into the disaster on two continents, is the story of Boston American newspaper reporter John Steadman who has his own tragic past. He is on the scent of the story from the start - from the time it is reported that most people on board the Titanic have been saved. When news breaks that the ship has gone down with the loss of over 1,500 people the world is in shock; when Steadman first sees Stone and Lord together he realises that both men are hiding something. From that moment on Steadman is determined to uncover the truth and the mystery of why the eight white rockets fired from the Titanic went unanswered: “This puzzle became my obsession. Every other aspect of the disaster was subsumed by it: the missing bodies, the lunacy of Major Butt, Astor’s chivalry and Ismay’s dishonour....the unknown and unsung dead children. All of these things now seemed secondary. None of them of them would have happened if the rockets had been answered.” Dyer skillfully portrays the newspaper reporter Steadman as a troubled and obsessed man, who also has a drinking problem. We follow him on his chase from Boston to UK as he tries to uncover answers. With so many things on Steadman’s mind I was surprised and very pleased by what he ultimately does to come to terms with the tragedy of the Titanic. (You’ll have to read the book to find out.) The Midnight Watch is a wonderfully engaging read that presents real insight into the chain of command and human frailty, a combination that can sometimes have dire consequences. A must read and not just for Titanic fans.
This book doesn't have any Kate or Leo. No doomed love. No swooning. No sex in the back of automobiles whilst being chased around the ship.
This book is the investigation of journalists, with a focus on one [fictional] journalist in particular, who is reporting on the Titanic's sinking. A strength brought to the book by having a journalist narrate is the detachment it brings to the story. We aren't so distressed by the events that we can't focus on the story the author wants us to hear. A downside to the book is that same detachment, because I didn't feel anything at all for much of the book.
There are a lot of strengths in this book. The author brings to life the investigative processes of the journalists, including the desperation to break the story first. If I forget this is a book about Titanic , this is what I enjoyed most about the book - seeing the main character sniff around for his story, and in seeing the competition between newspapers to get the scoop.
The other thing I really appreciated about the book was that the author attempted to delve into the 'psyche' (as one of his characters phrased it) of those on the Californian to try and understand why they didn't act when they saw the distress rockets. I found the ideas the author pondered to be interesting.
Where the book didn't work for me was in that aforementioned detachment. I found the book a little bit cold. There was a lot of detail that demonstrated the author's knowledge of the subject matter, but didn't add to the story told for your average Jane Bloggs like me who just wanted a story about Titanic . I had hopes early in the book where the main character was described as a 'body' man, whose reporting brings to life those deceased, that there would be a strong human element to the book. Those hopes weren't realised, and although the story of one family was part of the character's investigations, it wasn't a strong focus of the novel.
Perhaps I'm being unfair though - the blurb clearly outlines what the book focuses on, and so it's important to read it carefully. This book is going to best suit those interested in a dispassionate study of the role the Californian didn't play, and what some of the reasons behind that may have been. My rating is a reflection that this wasn't a book for me, rather than that it is not a good book. It is a great book for the right reader.
If you want your Titanic story filled with lots of feels and boxes of tissues it may be best to make a date with Kate and Leo.
Titanic stories have always fascinated me. While I am familiar with much of what happened with the Titanic before, during, and after its demise, I was not aware of the complete story regarding the Californian, and its utter and negligent failure to potentially stop the Titanic tragedy. As the story unfolded, I simply could not put this book down.
In Part One of the novel, Dyer creates a fictional journalist, John Steadman, to uncover and pursue what exactly transpired on the Californian the night the Titanic sank. He alternates Steadman’s story with the story of the crew members that were aboard the Californian that night. Second Officer Herbert Stone, a crew member on the Californian, had night watch on his ship in the early hours of April 15, 1912. As he is watching the sea he begins to see white rocket flares in the sky coming from another ship. He alerts his captain, Stanley Lord, who chooses to do nothing but continue sleeping. The next morning the crew members of the Californian learn that the Titanic in fact sank while Lord slept. While Lord attempts to cover up the Californian’s role in the tragedy, the story slowly comes out.
In Part Two of the book, Steadman follows Lord as he appears before the Senate committee and later an inquiry in Great Britain. Dyer finishes the story with a fictional article, entitled “Eight White Rockets” that Steadman wrote as a journalist following his investigations into the event. While I loved the entire book, “Eight White Rockets” was by far my favorite part; it was so beautifully written.
David Dyer writes beautifully and so descriptively that I frequently felt that I was on board the Californian and the Titanic. I really liked John Steadman and his dogged pursuit of the truth. I had a harder time with Stone (who was a real person) and his inability to stand up for himself and do the right thing. I intensely disliked Lord and felt that he should have paid more for his inaction.
I knew very little about the Californian before I read this novel. The story was absolutely captivating and so terribly tragic. It is always easy to say what might have been when looking back at events that have occurred, but in this case if two men had acted differently an entire tragedy might have been averted or at least been limited to a smaller death count. I highly recommend this novel – it is so well done.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Re-Read for my in person book club. Turns out my thoughts and impressions were unchanged from first reading. I rarely re-read a book but this was one I was very happy to become reacquainted with and would recommend highly to others.
Yet another work of fiction that has served as a learning tool and made me aware of a situation in our recent history that I hadn't previously known of. I suppose not too many people would be unaware of the story of the Titanic, but the Midnight Watch tells the story from a different perspective. It focuses on the Californian, a small ship that was in the vicinity of the Titanic at the time it sank. Correction, it wasn't just in the vicinity, the ships crew actually saw all 8 distress signals and yet they did not go to the aid of the Titanic until it had sunk and 1500 lives had been lost. And the question is why not?
This was an amazing book, especially given it was the authors debut novel. Granted, David Dyer admits to being obsessed by the Titanic. His notes on the writing of the Midnight Watch explain which parts were fact and which were fiction and large chunks of the story were based on fact. It almost felt like I was reading a biography at times and as the book progressed I couldn't read fast enough. Throughout the story I couldn't fathom why the captain of the Californian didn't go to the rescue of the other ship, regardless of whether he thought it was the Titanic or not. Even now it's finished I can't quite believe it to be true. Surely, he would have wanted to save lives if that had been possible. And yet, it seems not only did he fail to order his own ship to go to their rescue but he failed to carry any sense of shame or guilt for his inaction. The Edmund Burke saying "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" came to mind as I was reading. I don't think Captain Lord was deliberately setting out to do evil but the consequences of his failure to act were astronomical.
I really enjoyed the way the story came together and how our (ficticious) protagonist John Steadman, a journalist, came to write the story he eventually wrote. In fact, I really loved that deviation from the style in which the rest of the story was told. The story of the demise of the 11 members of the Sage family who died on the Titanic was a moving short story in itself, and yet it wove in the major players of the rest of the book. Very cleverly done.
I have to admit I did not know an enormous amount of detail regarding the Titanic disaster, only a vague idea of the number of survivors, that first class passengers got priority in the lifeboats & that some lifeboats were allowed to leave without being at full capacity. At most, I had wondered how such a huge disaster could have occurred - and why more people were not able to be rescued.
Had I looked into it a little further, The Midnight Watch might not have been such a colossal shock for me (as it's based on true events!). I had no idea that there was a ship in hailing distance at the time of the accident. How crushing for anyone on that ship to have discovered that there was even a small possibility of saving more lives, if events had gone differently.
Hubris is the undoing of many a man, and apparently this case was no different. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and everyone can only do so much with the information available to them.
The Midnight Watch brings the heart-wrenching events to life (pardon the pun), including some of the passengers who did not survive, and some of the crew on the Californian. The final chapter before the epilogue brought tears to my eyes - utterly devastating turn of events.
4.5 stars. The Midnight Watch centres upon one of the big "If onlies" of twentieth-century popular history: If only the Californian's Marconi wireless operator had stayed working slightly longer on the night of April 14-15 1912, if only her officers had realised the significance of rockets seen in the sky that night, perhaps the tragedy of the luxury ocean-liner Titanic would not have had the magnitude that it did. Initially, we see the events unfold from the perspective of Californian's young second officer, Herbert Stone, who is on duty - the "midnight watch" of the title - on the bridge, his ship stopped due to surrounding ice, when he observes a total of eight rockets fired into the sky by a large vessel to his south. He's somewhat in awe of his captain, Stanley Lord, and is hesitant to wake the sleeping captain to ask his advice and directions. Eventually he does, but is rebuffed by Lord and told only to attempt communication by Morse lamp with the other ship. Stone does what he is told, but no contact is made (unsurprisingly, given the distances involved). It's only hours later, when the crew of Californian become aware of Titanic's sinking, that the enormity of what they've done (or failed to do) occurs to Stone and Lord. Lord immediately commences a relentless campaign of pressuring Stone to misrepresent the events of the previous night in a way that won't bring shame upon them. Meanwhile, as rumours of the Titanic having suffered ice damage en route to New York begin to surface in east coast America, newspaper journalist John Steadman is sent from Boston to New York, in order to uncover the truth and write an article. An experienced hack, he immediately doubts the veracity of the statement given by IMM (White Star Line's parent company) in New York that, while an accident has occured, the ship and all passengers have survived and are being towed to Halifax, Canada. Slowly, radio transmissions from other ships begin to reveal the true scale of the tragedy. Rather than await the arrival of Titanic's survivors in New York aboard the Carpathia, Steadman is ordered to return to Boston to report on the arrival there of the Californian, reputed to be carrying the remains of several of the Titanic's more prominent casualties. The reports are in error - the Californian has slunk quietly into Boston carrying only her own cargo. However, on observing the terse demeanour of Captain Stanley Lord and his officers when questioned about their role in coming to the aid of Titanic's survivors, Steadman again senses that there is a lot more to the story than what has been revealed. He inveigles himself into conversation with second officer Stone, whom he perceives to be particularly uneasy, and is approached by a donkeyman (a worker having responsibilities in the ship's engine room, although not as senior as an engineer) named Ernie Gill, who is keen to report that he saw rockets in the sky with his own eyes on the night Titanic sank, but that Californian failed to respond. Gill swears an affidavit for Steadman and is duly called to give evidence before the US Senate Inquiry into the sinking, taking place in Washington DC. Captain Lord is also called, and at long last admits to the sighting of rockets by Californian, but refutes that they were distress flares. Steadman pursues the officers and crew of the Californian back to the UK, where they are again called to give evidence, before the British Court of Investigation into Titanic's sinking. Steadman attempts to speak to both Lord and Stone and also becomes aware of the story of the Sage family, third class passengers on Titanic, all eleven of whom perished in the sinking. He writes a sensitive piece about the tragedy, interposing the experience of Second Officer Stone on the Californian with his imagined perspective of the Sage family aboard Titanic. David Dyer is extraordinarily well-qualified to write this novel - he is a qualified merchant seaman, who has worked as a cadet and officer on a range of vessels. He has also worked as a lawyer in London, for a practice whose parent company represented the Titanic's owners in the aftermath of the sinking. He is well aware of the pressures and expectations that Lord and Stone were subject to as officers on the Californian. Journalist character John Steadman is Dyer's fictional invention, although the newspaper he works for - the Boston American - really existed. Captain Lord, Second Officer Stone, Donkeyman Ernest Gill and the ill-fated Sage family all existed. Dyer has relied upon the historical record as far as possible in relating their stories, but has interpolated additional detail where necessary. It's an intriguing and frustrating story of professional relationships, power structures, diffidence and bullying, guilt and self-delusion. What difference the Californian and her crew could actually have made to the outcome of the Titanic disaster remains a matter of conjecture. Stone didn't wake Captain Lord for instructions until after he'd observed the fifth of eight rockets, at about 1.00am. Had Lord ordered him to steam directly to Titanic's aid at that point, it's unlikely that the Californian could have reached the area before Titanic sank at approximately 2.20am, given the distance involved and the amount of ice in the area. Even if Californian had reacted as soon as the first distress rocket was fired by Titanic - at about 12.30am - it's by no means certain that the Californian could have arrived in time to save lives. Perhaps if the Californian's Marconi wireless operator, Cyril Evans, had had a deputy or had worked later that night - 24 hour wireless operation only became the norm after Titanic's sinking - he may have heard the first distress calls shortly before midnight, that would have improved the odds slightly, but who knows? The point is that Californian failed to render assistance to the doomed Titanic until it was far too late for them to do anything useful - they arrived in time to see the last of the survivors being hoisted aboard the Carpathia. The Midnight Watch is an intriguing modern take on an iconic event, and achieves a uniquely human perspective on the disaster. I would highly recommend it to any reader with an interest in the history of the Titanic or, like me, in the way the elusive “truth" can become lost in a figurative sea of media hype, conflicting loyalties and mistaken perceptions.
The movie Titanic, starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet brought the tragedy of the Titanic to a whole new audience. Filled with theatrics, special effects and a mesmerizing love story audiences flocked to the theater. This is not that book, this is a slower paced, especially the first half, look at what came after. Something I'll admit to never giving a thought. Why did the Californian, a ship so close, not rushed to the aid of the sinking ship?
John Steadman, is an investigative reporter, called the body man he gives voice to the dead. He brought the dead to life with the Triangle shirtwaist disaster and he senses something is not being told by the captain of the Californian and Stone, the sailor who was on the midnight watch. He will doggedly follow this story throughout the inquiries undertaken in the US and England.
Every time I picked up this book I kept thinking of the newspapers of this time, how readers would avidly read whatever news of this disaster was being written. Day by day, as the tragedy behind this terrible event, unfolded. We learn the background of the Californian Captain, the night watchman, Stone and interspersed between them, the reporter Steadman, and his family, whose estranged wife and daughter, marched with the Suffragette movement, which was also news of the time. Steadman will use a family of third class passengers, a family with nine children, to make this disaster personal.
Well written novel, of time and place and the importance of the investigative routers of the day. Those who would not let a story drop until all was exposed. Good reading and a good telling of the aftermath of this horrific tragedy.
John Steadman, journalist for the Boston American is called "The Body Man". He is known for going on scene to a tragedy and telling the stories of those who died.
When the luxury passenger ship, the RMS Titanic sinks during her maiden voyage, John rushes to find out what happened to those who died so he can tell their story. The story unfolds in small bits and it becomes apparent to John that there is a bigger story to tell this time.
The SS Californian, a mid-size cargo ship, was in the same Atlantic waters and the closest ship to the Titanic at the time it sank. Captain Lord had stalled her engines that night because they were surrounded by ice. Second Officer Herbert Stone was in charge during the dark hours of the midnight watch and witnessed a nearby ship fire eight distress rockets. When he reported them to the captain, nothing was done.
John races time to try and find out why the distress rockets from the Titanic were ignored by the nearest ship. Over 1500 who died might have been saved if the SS Californian had answered the signals from the Titanic and gone to her aid. What captain would choose to ignore maritime rules, and why did it happen? This is the bigger story that John is trying to tell; all the while battling his editor over deadlines and a threat of being fired. He interviews those who were there and attends hearings trying to get a grip on exactly how to tell this story and what viewpoint to take. Each time he thinks he knows where his story is going, new information comes along which changes everything.
Author, David Dyer does a fantastic job mixing fact and fiction. I found myself online checking out some of the facts after reading the book. Ultimately the fate of the Titanic was ruled to be an accident but maritime regulations did undergo some changes after the tragedy. The SS Californian was indeed a nearby ship the night of April 15, 1912. They were the last to have been in contact with her before the collision and they saw her flares but failed to assist. David Dyer takes us onboard the Californian to see what the ship’s captain and crew might have been thinking that night. He also gives us a fictional look at one family of eleven who died on board the Titanic.
I recommend this book highly for those who know a little, or those who know a lot about the tragedy of the Titanic’s sinking. This is a very human story both from the viewpoint of the Titanic's passengers and from that of the Californian's crew. I really felt as if I were actually there among those who were close by as the Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. A great piece of historical fiction!
I want to thank the publisher (St. Martin’s Press) for providing me with the ARC through Netgalley for an honest review.
This book was gorgeous. I may be wearing Titanic obsession glasses that I cannot shed, but honestly I was absolutely enthralled by this book. From the description I expected a slow moving picture of the events of the night the Titanic sank from onboard the Californian, the Titanic, and a little bit of the reporter's story back in America. But no. So much no. The first few chapters are a haunting picture of the midnight watch the night the Titanic sank. From there was travel along with the main narrator, the reporter as he searches for the truth about what really happened on board the Californian and why it did not go to the aid of the Titanic.
I felt so many things. Pity, sorrow, anger at these men for their choices and their situation.
This book was masterfully written and the research about the real events, the inquiries, and the general reception of the public to the disaster is beautifully laid out. Dyer, has a wonderful way with words, and he just draws in so far into the story you almost believe that this could be the TRUTH about what happened.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who shares my fascination with the Titanic.
**I received this book for free through Net Galley for an honest review.
Subtitle: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian
When the Titanic struck the ice berg in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, she was not the only ship in those waters. Crew and passengers noticed the lights of a ship on the horizon, and attempts were made to signal that ship for assistance. That ship was the Californian … and she arrived too late. This novel attempts to explain why.
Dyer chose to write the book from two perspectives: Californian’s Second Officer Herbert Stone, who was the officer in charge of the midnight watch and saw the rockets being fired; and John Steadman, a news reporter, noticing inconsistencies in the official statements given by Californian’s Captain Stanley Lord, believes that the truth is being hidden and takes extra efforts to unearth the story.
This is Dyer’s first novel, and he definitely chose a topic with which he was familiar. According to his bio, he spent many years as a lawyer at a London legal practice whose parent firm represented the Titanic’s owners in 1912. He had also worked as a cadet and ship’s officer and graduated from the Australian Maritime College. So he had his own experience as a seaman, and access to documents and artifacts regarding the disaster to help inspire this book.
Like many people, I am fascinated by the Titanic’s story. I was eager to read this novel and thought it would shed some light on the decisions made aboard the Californian that resulted in no action taken to assist the sinking liner. But Dyer’s narrative style failed to capture my attention. The moving back and forth in time and from one narrator to another broke up the story arc in a way that just didn’t work for me. I would get interested in one point of view only to yanked back (or forth) to another timeframe and another story line. Just as John Steadman struggles to find the hook that will give him the great story his editor demands, I struggled to find the hook that would bind me to this novel.
Finally, towards the end of the book (page 253 out of 319 pages), Dyer gives the reader his character’s report of the events of that fateful night: “Eight White Rockets” by John Steadman. THIS is what I was hoping for when I heard about the novel. Those last 60 pages of the novel were gripping.
In the early years of the twentieth century, the second officer on an ocean going ship had the unenviable duty of manning the midnight watch on the bridge. The midnight watch lasted from midnight until four.
On the evening of April 14, 1912, aboard the British steamer Californian, that duty fell to 24 year old Herbert Stone. Earlier that evening, Captain Stanley Lord had stopped the Californian after they encountered many icebergs. They would stay where they were at least until the morning. Earlier in the evening, the watch officer on the bridge noticed another ship about 10 miles off their starboard side. It seemed to be moving, but then close to midnight it appeared to stop. He mentioned this to Officer Stone.
The night was moonless and the air that evening was frigid when Officer Stone took over the watch. Looking through his binoculars he also saw the other ship. After awhile he thought he saw a faint smudge of light flicker over the other vessel……
This fascinating novel, told through the eyes of fictitious newspaperman John Steadman, gives a very plausible account of what happened aboard the Californian — the “mysterious” ship that passengers and crew aboard the ill fated Titanic had hoped would come to their rescue. Author David Dyer used information gleaned from firsthand accounts, affidavits, and the transcripts from both the American and British inquiries into the Titanic tragedy to bring to life the events of April 14-15, 1912.
This unique perspective of the Titanic disaster begins slowly, but as the story unfolds it is hard to put down and will leave you wondering about the actions taken by Stanley Lord who was captain of the Californian.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.
When I was a kid, I was very very very obsessed with the Titanic, but in a sort of unhealthy way. It TERRIFIED me. If I thought about it too much around water, I'd get lightheaded and have to sit down. I wanted to learn everything possible about it, but was so deathly afraid that I couldn't touch the pages of my books about it. By the time the movie came out, I was much more reasonable about everything, but looking at pictures of the wreck still makes my heart race.
I was a little skeptical to request The Midnight Watch because YIKES TITANIC BOOK! and because I'm so often disappointed with historical fiction (I think it often works too hard to establish the world without giving enough substance), but the idea to tell the Californian's story was too good to resist. I haven't been able to stop thinking about the book since I finished. It starts a bit slow, to establish personalities and relationships between the characters, but I got to a point midway through where I couldn't put it down. I loved David Dyer's speculated reason why the Californian didn't respond to the Titanic's distress rockets, and Reading this reawakened my (hopefully more grounded) interest in the Titanic while adding new insight into the disaster. I'm so pleased to have found this book!
Reporter John Steadman comes up against difficulty when he begins to question the actions of the captain of the Californian about the night the Titanic went down. (Opening line)-“In the early years of the twentieth century my father heard that there was good money to be made in Venezuela.”-(John Steadman) Great read for historical fiction fans! Raises some interesting questions about how far loyalty to a superior in command should be taken. The parts about the eleven-member Sage family, all of whom went down with the Titanic, were particularly sad. The picture of the family that is referred to in Chapter 15 can be found in an Internet search. Memorable quotes: (Pg.31)-“Everybody on the Titanic is safe. The ship is diverting to Halifax.” (Mr. Philip Franklin) (Pg.226)-“He knows their names, every one. He has memorized them.” (Mrs. Herbert Stone) (Pg.318)-“Those rockets! Unanswered then and unanswerable ever after.”
Ugh! I am so annoyed. I just typed a really long review and then hit the back button and it accidentally got deleted. Anyways, I am giving this book 5 stars. It is a well-written historical fiction that is gripping. It is very detailed and yet at the same time the author chooses words concisely. From reading the book, I can tell the writer has a deep passion for historical fiction and also did a lot of research. He also must have a naval background. His descriptions are filled with emotion. I would recommend this to those who love social drama and human perspectives.
“The midnight watch: a time of loneliness, demons and trances.”
I loved this chilling tale about the events of the greatest maritime disaster of the time, and the nearby steam ship that did nothing. 1500 people perished in the icy waters that night and this book, whether you are a Titanic enthusiast like the author, or just enjoy a good investigative story about finding out the truth and what to do with it once its discovered, then this book is for you. Dyer provides an excellent blend of facts and fiction and it did not leave me wanting, in fact I now have a desire to read more about that fateful day in 1912.
Update October 2017 - Re-read but this time with the Audible version. Loved it just as much, if not more! The narrator did a fabulous job and added so much life to the characters.
Update August 2019 - I absolutely love this book and it is probably in my top 10 favourite reads. So you can imagine my delight at it being set as a book club read at my library book club. I can only hope that my fellow book clubbers enjoy this story as much as I do. My first read established an obsession with the Titanic disaster, and I can feel that this latest read has refuelled that obsession. And having read Moby Dick earlier this year, I finally understand all the references.
I went for the trifecta this time (1st read Physical, 2nd read Audible, 3rd read Kindle) and was amazed that this re-read offered so many new experiences and feelings.
I found this book a little slow to start, and a list of characters including who was in which position on the Californian would have been very helpful - I kept getting mixed up in the beginning.
But I could sympathise with the officer on the Californian who saw the rockets fired from the Titanic when he realised the next day the magnitude of what had happened and what his ship’s role had been (and what it could have been) in the disaster.
I’m not sure I totally bought the explanation by David Dyer for why the Californian didn’t do anything, although it is a possibility. But I guess, with the benefit of hindsight, and knowing the scale of the the tragedy, any “explanation” for why a ship didn’t go to lend assistance is probably going to seem a bit paltry.
4.5 stars I went into this book with no expectations and a little exasperation, reading a book you have to is never as fun as reading the ones you want to.
As soon as I started this book I realised how wrong I was. There was something almost poetic about Dyer's writing style, and the way he vividly crafted the scenes of the Titanic and Californian had me so emotionally invested it wasn't funny.
Never has the last line of a book been so perfect that my heart has stopped until 'The Midnight Watch'.
Wow, if only............ I never knew this part of the story, such a sad tale if you stop and think about how differently the outcome could have been. This is a five star read for me, as even though some parts of it dragged a little, it's a story that will stay with me forever.