“Everyone knows what rockets at sea mean.” // Review of “The Midnight Watch” by David Dyer

Title: The Midnight Watch
Author: David Dyer
Audio book narrator: Robert Fass
Genre: Historical fiction
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 14/11/18 – 03/12/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book took a while to get into. For some time, I found I had to be in the right mood for it. But by the end, I found myself so fascinated by the events it described that I was waiting for opportunities to hear more.

The Midnight Watch tells the strange, true story of the officers of the SS Californian, a ship that may have been as close as five miles to the Titanic on the night she sank in April 1912, and witnessed her distress rockets, and yet did nothing to help. In the ensuing inquiries, it was determined that had the Californian responded, “many, if not all, lives may have been saved”.

Much of the content of this book is taken from the testimonies given during the inquiries into the sinking of the Titanic. While one of the central POV characters, John Steadman, is an invention, the other characters and events are real. I think this makes them even more compelling, knowing that so much of the dialogue really took place. It is interesting in that it is very much the Californian’s story – the Titanic and even the voices of its survivors are more on the periphery as Steadman tries desperately to get answers from Captain Stanley Lord and Second Officer Herbert Stone, the officer who was on the titular midnight watch and reported white rockets to the captain.

David Dyer is a self-confessed Titanic obsessive and he has been thorough in his research into what became known as “the Californian incident”. He attempts to answer the question of why the Californian never responded to the Titanic’s rockets. There is something of a conclusion on that front in the final pages of the book, but it is nothing definitive, and I don’t think the author would claim to have any real answers.

Definitely a good one for Titanic enthusiasts and historical fiction fans alike.


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