August 13

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

Off the back of my last book review, let’s jump on board another historical one – The Midnight Watch by David Dyer.  Excuse the pun though because this book is about the Titanic, and that is one ship we wish no-one got aboard.

The twist with this compelling tale is while it relives the end of the Titanic, it is told from the perspective of the other boats in the vicinity, those able to steam to her aide as she sank.  The story quickly narrows on one boat in particular  –  the one that was closest; the boat that seemingly ignored the Titanic’s calls for rescue and who did not help that night – a ship named the  Californian.

As the Titanic hit the fatal iceberg and began sinking, her crew members saw the lights of the Californian on the horizon.  They called mayday repeatedly and in desperation, just after midnight, the Titanic began firing distress rockets – eight in fact, all seen by the Californian.  And yet, the ship did not move – and when it finally did, it was all too late.

When the truth of Titanic’s fate finally reaches America (at first it was reported the ship was merely damaged) reporter John Steadman is haunted by the deaths of the fifteen hundred passengers and crew and he decides to honour them in a series of newspaper articles.  He sets out to tell the stories of the dead and to give them a voice and a face – it is a skill he has perfected over the years and is the style of reporting he is celebrated for.

After meeting with the Captain, the second officer and crew of the Californian however, he grows deeply suspicious of their stories and demeanours and can’t quite believe they are the heroes the newspapers around the world are reporting them to be.

News stories say they sped to the aide of the Titanic the minute they knew she was in trouble.  While the Captain of the Californian laps up the glory, Steadman starts probing.  The truth bubbles to the surface as more questions are asked and the more the crew are required to repeatedly relive the night.   When the whole story emerges, the condemnation and the consequences for the Californian Captain and crew is swift.

Thankfully, this book is not simply about the investigative process undertaken by Steadman – that would make it far too documentary in style, and it is way richer than that.  It perfectly evokes that time in history; shines a different light on the famous story by detailing the aftermath; brings to life the mysterious and dangerous life at sea; and, explores why those who sail, do.

But perhaps, what this book does so beautifully is show that sometimes, sadly, the smallest of human failings can lead to the greatest of disasters  and it’s true for both the Titanic and for the Californian, those aboard them and those who loved them.

I hope you pick this one up Readheads – it is a very powerful and compassionate perspective on one of the world’s saddest, most infamous nights at sea and I don’t think anyone can read anything about it and not feel something – helped perhaps by Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicarprio, I grant you.

And that is my two cents worth.