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The Midnight Watch: A gripping novel of the SS Californian, the ship that failed to aid the sinking Titanic Paperback – 6 Apr 2017
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Historical fiction at its best. -- Antonia Senior * The Times * Passionate and gripping. * Financial Times * David Dyer turns the sparse record of why the Californian did not go to the aid of the sinking Titanic into a gripping novel of flawed people, missed chances, and suspense. * Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat * In The Midnight Watch, David Dyer makes the story of the sinking of the Titanic brand new-he even makes you wonder what will happen. This superb novel, the disaster we think we know, comes freshly alive through its unfamiliar point of view, and David Dyer's vivid eye for the right and telling detail. * Peter Nichols, bestselling author of The Rocks * A fascinating novel. David Dyer has captured all the drama and emotion of the Titanic disaster from an intriguing new perspective. Clever, gripping and utterly compelling. Historical fiction at its very best. * Hazel Gaynor, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home and A Memory of Violets * The Midnight Watch opens fresh portals on a monumental event with all the tools of strong historical fiction: deep research, methodical recreations, and an array of memorable perspectives. Dyer proves why sometimes it takes fiction to answer history's question of "How could this happen?" A compelling read and a journey through this moment in time. * Matthew Pearl, New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Last Bookaneer * David Dyer has achieved that very rare thing, an historical account of a major event involving impeccable research and detail, yet one that is a novel first and foremost. The Midnight Watch is a compelling read, insightful, compassionate and deeply moving from start to finish. -- Debra Adelaide, author of THE HOUSEHOLD GUIDE TO DYING [A] hugely impressive debut novel, a fascinating piece of historical fiction * RTE Guide *
The Midnight Watch is at once a heart-stopping mystery and a deeply knowing novel - about the frailty of men, the strength of women, the capriciousness of fate and the price of loyalty.See all Product description
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I first read about David Dyer’s new novel on Carrie’s Book Reviews blog a few weeks ago and immediately pre-ordered it. Dyer has taken a look at the Titanic story from a different angle; the focus of this novel is on the actions of the nearest ship to Titanic when she hit the iceberg, the Californian. I’d heard about this before reading the novel but Dyer’s meticulous research mixed with his educated interpretations of what might have taken place that nice, add an extra dimension for me. It put a much more human face on the men who were working the midnight watch that fateful night. I was surprised to find I had some sympathy for the Second Officer, as he panicked and was scared to disturb the Captain but then when he eventually did, he was sent away.
A fictional journalist, Steadman, who has made a name for himself chasing bodies at disaster sites, misses out on the first bodies being brought back from the sight of the Titanic but he realises there is a much bigger story to be uncovered. He then refuses to let go in his quest to discover what happened on the Californian. He shows such tenacity and drive to get to the truth.
The journalist also gets to hear about some of the third class passengers who perished on the Titanic and is determined to not let these victims be forgotten. The novel covers the events on the Californian, the resulting investigation and inquest, and finally we get to read the story Steadman wrote. It is focused on a large family, who really did perish on the Titanic and he writes the story of what he thought may have happened to them that night, based on stories their neighbours had told him about them all. It’s an incredibly moving story, and one that made me shed a few tears on finishing the book.
There is so much detail in this book but it never becomes too much; Dyer has struck a perfect balance of fact and fiction. It felt like a really fresh look at the Titanic narrative too, the way it was done from another angle that hasn’t been covered in any of the fiction I’ve read to date. The way Dyer fictionalised real people and a real event but blended it so seamlessly meant it really gave the book such an authentic voice, which made it all the more powerful and all the more devastating. The idea that a human being could ignore the distress signals of a ship at sea leaves me speechless, it’s such a shocking dereliction of duty. Dyer doesn’t make a quick judgement in his novel though, it is left for the reader to interpret Lord’s behaviour as Steadman tries to put the strands of the story together from the accounts he’s heard. I was astounded at the arrogance of Captain Lord and there is no excusing what he did; the bit that I found hardest to grasp was how blasé he appeared to be about what happened that night. The Midnight Watch deftly explores the fallibility of witness testimony and memory, particularly memories of a traumatic night – a night that led to the death of 1500 people. It certainly felt that some people may genuinely have mis-remembered but others were complicit in keeping to the story they knew they should tell, even though it was at the expense of the truth.
It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel, it’s such an accomplished book. It had me utterly enthralled from the first page until long after I read the final page; I know it’ll be a novel that stays with me for a long time to come. I rated it 5 out of 5 and highly recommend it.
Herbert Stone was the midnight watchman on board the Californian that night. He is tormented by the captain’s failure to respond to the Titanic, but at the same time he feels duty bound to continue to obey his captain’s orders to keep quiet about what he saw. While the story is fictional, Stone was a real person and Dyer incorporates testimony given by the crew of the Californian into the story.
The book’s other main character, John Steadman, is a reporter for the Boston American who is suspicious about the inconsistencies in the captain’s story and who starts to investigate what really happened on board the Californian that night. He is also haunted by the many lives that were lost that night, particularly 3rd class children.
This is a very well written story with intriguing, rounded characters. The most successful thing however is the way that Dyer gives you the sense of what it would have been like to be onboard the Californian or the Titanic that night. I could feel the cold, damp air in my nostrils and the eerie silence of the icy sea. We are all so familiar with the James Cameron movie that it’s quite an achievement to give us a very different angle on the events of that night.
Ultimately this is a moving story about human failings and how good people can make errors with fatal consequences. It’s a gripping read that stays with you.
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