The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

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The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A different viewpoint in this story on the sinking of the Titanic and its aftermath: why did the nearest ship do nothing? Compulsive reading, even for those who feel that when it comes to the Titanic they've read it all.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: April 2016
Publisher: Atlantic Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1782397793

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In the early hours of April 15th 1912, the RMS Titanic sank causing the death of over 1,500 people. The Californian, commanded by Captain Stanley Lord was the nearest ship to it, near enough for anyone on deck that night to see the Titanic's distress rockets. This means it was near enough to go to its aid but it remained inactive while witnessing the unfolding events. Why? Within a day or two of the disaster American journalist John Steadman is sent to cover the Titanic's sinking but the story of the Californian's inaction intrigues him even more.

After serving in the Australian navy, debut author David Dyer became a maritime lawyer, a job that took him to London and the offices of Hill Taylor Dickinson. Just another London law firm? Not exactly; this is the firm that represented the owners of the Titanic following that fateful night. It was a side issue to the main story that fascinated David though – the 'Californian incident' as it was known.

With the support of a doctoral grant, the author embarked on extensive research covering both the US and UK as well as a visit to the wreck site itself to learn more about why the Californian seemed to do nothing. The result is a compelling and unputdownable read.

David treads a fascinating line between fact and well-informed fiction. His characters are all real from the Marconi-trained wireless operator through to Second Officer Herbert Stone and Captain Stanley Lord and even journalist Steadman. Each main player has a life, a back story and a contribution but the last three are particularly important to us, forming the framework of the tale.

Steadman has built a career on an unusual niche – exemplary pen portraits of the dead. Being the go-to guy for disaster coverage, he's the ideal choice for the Titanic. His private life is less successful but we're still on his side, even when our modern day ideas get in the way of defending him against his suffragette estranged wife. As the revelations pour out this isn't the only judgement where our modern mores colour the picture.

Lord takes his name a little too seriously, ruling his domain in an uncompromising and coercive way. Contrastingly Stone has more of a conscience, as we can see by what happens when the events are over and the Californian crew have all gone home. He goes to sea expecting camaraderie between officers but is sorely disappointed.

In good historical fiction the contemporary attitudes and factoids are as much a welcome part of the story as the storyline and its inhabitants. Needless to say this is indeed good historical fiction. Therefore we learn of such things as the suffragettes' outrage that women were allowed in the boats ahead of men; yes, equality in all things, even if it's fatal. There's also a little paragraph or two on the Titanic's 'cravens'; I dare you to read that without at least an internal gasp. I would also direct you to David's excellent website for further information and resource material.

This is a wonderful, although tragic, story, written with skill and sensitivity as well as a true sense of the sadness as the events unfold. If you know nothing of the Californian or the ensuing court case, this is an excellent introduction. If you know the outcome, David's reanimation of people and moments will refresh your interest.

(A huge thank you to Atlantic Books for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals we also recommend the unsettling The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. If you'd like to continue reading around the Titanic's sinking, then we just as heartily suggest Lost Voices from the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History by Nick Barratt.

Booklists.jpg The Midnight Watch by David Dyer is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2016.

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