(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Everyone knows the story of the ill-fated Titanic, which struck an iceberg in the frigid Atlantic Ocean on the evening of April 14, 1912. Its subsequent sinking has been recounted in dozens of books, movies, news articles, etc. What about the S.S. Californian, though? Although the name may be familiar to some, how many of us know the tale of "The Ship of Shame"? I didn't know much about it until reading The Midnight Watch, a debut novel by David Dyer.
Through the eyes of John Steadman, an intrepid reporter for the Boston American (a real newspaper published in Massachusetts between 1906 and 1961), we learn the sordid details. On April 14, the Californian was positioned only a few miles north of Titanic. Herbert Stone, the former's second officer, spotted distress rockets from the latter during his midnight watch. Although he wasn't positive what he was seeing, he awoke Stanley Lord, the Californian's captain, anyway. Ignoring Stone's concern, Lord returned to his bed. Although a total of eight rockets were fired throughout the night, they continued to be ignored. Once the horrifying scale of the Titanic tragedy was discovered, Lord's inaction seemed especially suspect. Why did the captain, a respected seaman known to be both scrupulous and brave, do nothing to aid the sinking ship? If he had immediately steamed to Titanic's rescue, could the lives of 1500 people have been saved? Is Stanley Lord directly responsible for that staggering loss?
This is the question that spurs on the fictional Steadman. As his tenacious search turns up more and more concerns about Lord's curious failure to act, he knows he must uncover the truth. Although "the truth" Steadman finds is highly controversial, even today, it makes for mesmerizing reading.
Impeccably researched by Dyer—a highly-educated Australian maritime lawyer with extensive sea-faring experience—the novel is taut, gripping, and astounding in its implications. Using a fresh angle, The Midnight Watch brings a unique perspective to the tragedy, serving up intriguing historical facts on a bed of engrossing, well-written fiction. If you, like me, are endlessly fascinated by the Titanic disaster, you simply can't miss this excellent novel.
(Readalikes: Other Titanic novels, including The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf and I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 by Lauren Tarshis)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for violence, blood/gore, and mature subject matter (prostitution, alcoholism, etc.)
To the FTC, with love: Another library