Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian - David Dyer

Summary: As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanicwas at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction. Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew, but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. The Midnight Watch is a powerful and dramatic debut novel--the result of many years of research in Liverpool, London, New York, and Boston, and informed by the author's own experiences as a ship's officer and a lawyer.  (Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I found the topic of this book compelling. I mean, who doesn’t love stuff about the Titanic? I was in high school when the Titanic movie came out, and that just fueled the interest of it. It really brought to life what it looked like—its luxury, its splendor, and the awesomeness of it all. And the tragedy. It was tragic without the movie, of course, but in high school, seeing this tragedy played out on the screen made it more real and tangible.

This book was interesting in that it addressed a part of the Titanic saga that I wasn’t aware of. I knew there were other ships around the Titanic, but I had no idea that there was one as close as the Californian, let alone one that had seen the distress flares and yet ignored them. I mean, this is huge. If the Californian had come to the aid of the sinking Titanic, so much would have changed. There is no doubt that many lives would have been saved, and the tragedy of 1500 dying would have been reduced by quite a bit.

Midnight Watch is told from the perspective of a journalist trying to tell the “real story” of the Californian and what happened that night on the…ah…midnight watch, and although this perspective wasn’t my favorite, it did provide a unique opportunity for a character to have access to information and people that a lay person of the time may not have.

Overall I didn’t love the writing in this book. Although the research was obviously there, and Dyer definitely has the street cred to know what’s up (his author bio is really impressive and he probably knows as much or more about the Titanic than anyone I’ve ever heard of) but the writing was quite juvenile, especially at the beginning. It’s not like it was using immature wording or potty language or something, but it just didn’t flow like a more experienced author might have. It did get better as the book went on, but in the first half I feel like the book almost read like a juvenile fiction book, and indeed I think that its simplicity was more on that level. As the book went on I either got more into it or the writing improved (or both), but the writing was definitely the weakest part of this book.

I found parts of this book to be really slow and would have liked to hear more about the Titanic and the Californian in general. I wasn’t as interested in the story of the journalist, and although it was a decent way to tell the story, it wasn’t super compelling. Unequivocally, my favorite part of the book was the very end when the “journalist,” instead of writing a news article, writes a human interest piece about a family that was on the Titanic. This part of the book had the best writing, the story was interesting and compelling, and it had that human factor that really made it easy to relate and understand the real tragedy of the Titanic. The rest of the book made it easy to dismiss the tragedy of the Titanic because you weren’t living it as the reader, but this last part definitely affected me and that is when I felt the most connected.

I think this book is an interesting addition to the Titanic stories, and although the writing wasn’t super strong, the knowledge and perspective of Dyer is definitely valuable and interesting.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean, but it is tragic, just as you might imagine a story of the Titanic to be.

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