I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction
"I completely loved The Midnight Watch; this is historical fiction at its best." --Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat
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.
One of the things that has always fascinated me about Titanic is that fact that so many of the tragic events associated with the ship could have been avoided. I mean, there are so many “if only” type of scenarios that can be brought up when discussing the tragedy. For example, “if only there had been more lifeboats”, or “if only the lifeboats had been filled appropriately”, or “if only the communication had been better aboard the ship” or “if only the crew had been able to notice the ice berg.” Of course, listing these scenarios now does nothing to change the actual situation as it occurred but it does result in some interesting hindsight interpretation. Especially when tied into one of the other things that has always fascinated me about Titanic and that is the fact that the ship the Californian was so close for so long and did absolutely nothing to help. I have often wondered how the crew members aboard that ship were able to live with themselves after such a tragic occurrence. Luckily for me, it seems like I was not the only one who has wondered about this.
In his debut novel The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian, author David Dyer brings to the forefront those questions that have tempted him and myself for so long. Using carefully researched information, he takes us aboard the Californian and allows us to witness what occurred aboard the ship as it was receiving rocket messages from the Titanic that it was in grave danger. He takes us through the motions of that tragic night as the crew members attempt to alert their captain and are ignored. He paints a realistic picture of the emotions and the confusion which each crew member was facing based on the severity of the situation. Specifically, he focuses on the actions that occur the following morning, once it is realized that a tragedy has occurred and that they must now deal with the outcome of what has happened. The decisions which are made on that morning are just as impactful as the decisions which were made the night before as they affect so many different people.
In order to help paint the picture that occurred that tragic morning, David Dyer creates a new fictional character named John Steadman who is newspaper reporter for the Boston American. At first, John comes for the story which everyone else is getting, the story about the tragedy of the Titanic but, he senses that there is more going on than matches the surface when it comes to the events upon the Californian. So, he decides to do some research of his own, and hold some private interviews. To get some of the information that he wants he has to be creative and even create fictional identities to gain peoples trust but, one way or another he is able to get what it is that he is looking for. Yet, the more he looks, the more he wants to continue digging until everything is uncovered. I really like John’s dedication to the truth because even as the story takes all of its twists and turns he never gives up until he has the answers that he wants.
The reason that there are so many twists and turns is because of the different responses which crew members aboard the Californian give when the truth is involved. For some of them, there is a sense of loyalty to their ship and their captain and they believe that they must follow orders. In this case, it is to say that there was nothing more they could have done to help save the Titanic. Some of them struggled with this type of decision but their need for loyalty and respect sometimes surpassed their need for the truth. In The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian, you really get a sense of the varying emotions which the crew members were experiencing. It attempts to get into their psychological frame of mind which is something that I could greatly appreciated. Even if I couldn’t fully understand why they did what they did, especially when you’re framing it against a tragedy where 1500 lives were lost, it was still an interesting way to capture exactly what was going on in the aftermath of the sinking.
All in all there were many positives about The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer. I enjoyed the way that it took another aspect of the tragic story which I have been obsessed with for so long. It definitely brings a new element to the table when it comes to a fictionalized version of the real life events of the Titanic and the Californian. However, there were times when I felt like the focus was too much on the fictionalized character of John Steadman, and not enough on the actual events which we have researched information on. Granted I’m not too informed on the actual events of the Californian (now though I admittedly want to find out more) but I still feel like more could have been presented in this storyline. I feel like too much focus was giving to the process of the reporter, which is not a bad thing as it was interesting, but I felt that it took away from the true focus of the story. I did appreciate how everything was tied together in the end though, and how there were whispers of other historical events (in particular, the suffrage movements) being mentioned throughout. It made for a very interesting read!