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The Midnight Watch

A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian

by David Dyer

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer X
The Midnight Watch by David Dyer
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 336 pages
    Apr 2017, 336 pages

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Cloggie Downunder

a moving and captivating read
The Midnight Watch is the first novel by Australian teacher and author, David Dyer. While the story of the sinking of the SS Titanic in April 1912 will be familiar to most people, the part played in the drama by the master and crew of the SS Californian is probably less well-known. While it is argued about, many accept that the Californian was the ship closest to Titanic when she sank; was, in fact, within sight of Titanic, and did not react when Titanic fired off eight distress rockets at five-minute intervals, except to signal with the Morse lamp. Nor did they try to contact the Titanic via wireless.

Dyer tells the story of what probably happened on the Californian that night, what the master and the crew did, and what occurred on their arrival in Boston, as well as their testimonies at the subsequent US Senate Inquiry in Washington DC and the British Inquiry in London. His narrator is John Steadman, a fictional journalist for the Boston American, whose story was instrumental in forcing master and crew to appear before the Inquiries.

The latter section of the book is a story titled Eight White Rockets, which Steadman has written as “an account the sea tragedy of the Titanic and the Sage Family”, an actual family of eleven which perished in the sinking. Dyer’s story is historical fiction but is based on fact. Many of the characters he fills out for the reader actually existed, and much of what he describes is backed up by witness accounts. Some of it is likely to leave the reader gasping.

Dyer’s expertise in this field is apparent on every page. It should be noted that he spent many years as a lawyer at the London legal practice whose parent firm represented the Titanic’s owners in 1912. He has also worked as a cadet and ship’s officer on a wide range of merchant vessels, having graduated with distinction from the Australian Maritime College. His talent as an author ensures that this already-fascinating story takes on a human aspect. As well as being interesting and informative, this is a moving and captivating read.
Therese X. (Calera, AL)

A Riveting Retelling
The terrible disaster of the the sinking of the ship HMS Titanic over one hundred years ago, still intrigues modern day readers. The loss of more than 1,500 people on a luxury ship deemed "unsinkable" by its British designers and builders rapidly became worldwide front page news. Huge chunks of ice hid in the dark waters while the Titanic made its way from England to the United States suddenly ripping through the hull of the mighty ship. Eight rocket flares went up from the Titanic in the murky weather during the midnight watch, yet a nearby vessel, the SS Californian whose captain was allegedly told of the rockets but did not confirm or react to the distress signals. The teller of our story is John Steadman, a newsman who was used to "bodies" and addressing their stories with dignity. As he tells his story, the reader is given not only the facts but the emotions of the impact this disaster had on all levels of society. Bravery from the rich yet some cowards prevailed and received no mercy from a diligent reporter. The poor who were not accounted for in the headlines were also honored. This was a such a riveting
account, it was like being brought back in time as a witness. When the captain of the SS Californian has to testify at the U.S. Hearing on the disaster, we are astounded at his cool, incredible testimony and wonder at the verdict of his testimony. This novel whets the appetite to know more about this tragedy which could not have been predicted but continues to fascinate.
Tracey S. (FL)

Interesting Story
The Midnight Watch is about the fictional relationship of the Captain of the Californian and the ship's second officer on the night of the Titanic disaster. The Californian was within sight of the Titanic and because of miscommunication between these two men and assumptions they both made, perhaps more people died than was necessary. I am interested in anything pertaining to the Titanic and it kept my interest the whole way through. The descriptions were vivid and filled with emotion. I would recommend this book to anyone.
Mary D. (Claremont, CA)

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer
What is it about the Titanic that has managed to hold our interest and curiosity for over one hundred years? Books, movies, museum-quality displays...we never seem to lose interest. Perhaps it is the sheer arrogance of the builders and shipping company, the exquisite grandeur of the vessel, the shattering number of lives lost, the prominent names on board...who knows? The Midnight Watch is indeed another book about the sinking of this magnificent ship, but from a very different point of view, that of a reporter, who specializes in writing stories that put life back into those who died in tragedies. His quest for bodies recovered from the ship are thwarted: Carpathia only picked up survivors, and The Californian, who was supposedly picking up bodies, was empty upon arrival. Sensing something amiss among the captain and officers of The Californian, he sets out on another story: why didn't The Californian respond to the eight distress flares sent up by the Titanic, especially when she was the closest ship?

No spoilers here...the book read very easily, was thoroughly engaging, providing deep insights into the captain, his officers, the wireless operators, etc. His final article is included at the end of the book, along with an epilogue where he once again talks with the captain, who still believes that nothing was amiss.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in Titanic lore, especially from a very different point of view.
Tracy N. (Kentfield, CA)

The Flawed Watch
This is a compelling account of the Titanic disaster and the ship that did not come to her rescue. As an avid reader of everything about the Titanic, I did not know the story of the SS Californian. Dyer is able to draw us into the story with all the forces that motivated the officers, crew and their flawed actions while serving the Californian on that fateful, cold, dark night.

Dyer brings a solid characterization of this time period. The sensational journalism, the unsinkable shipping industry, the emerging Suffragettes and the British and American inquiries conducted about the sinking of the Titanic are rich and fascinating. Dyer delivers a great read! The Midnight Watch is a story to contemplate and the sad truth of "what if" haunts me…
Hayley A. (Council Bluffs, IA)

Both Entertaining and Moving
I very much enjoyed reading 'The Midnight Watch;' it's an excellent piece of historical fiction. So excellent, in fact, that it's often difficult to tell where fact ends and fiction begins. The Titanic disaster has become so ingrained in our current pop culture that it's hard to appreciate the emotional impact that it had on those living in 1912. I appreciated the chance to view the tragedy from the observer's perspective.
Nancy F. (Naples, IN)

Must read if you ever wondered......
This is one of the best historical novels I have read in past several years! The author did a wonderful job of taking many complex details and relating them back to individual stories that tell about a historic event we all know...the sinking of the Titanic. However, the author was filling in the missing "dots" to weave a possible explanation for why so many lives were lost. A wonderful read!
Jeff M. (Somerset, NJ)

The Midnight Watch
The fascination with the sinking of the Titanic has continued for over 100 years, including the mystery of the steamer, the SS Californian and what it observed and what it did or did not do on the night of the sinking. That debate has raged on even into the 1990s where another reappraisal of evidence was conducted by the British government.

Author David Dyer has done exhaustive research on this subject. Centering around a fictional news reporter and the real people involved in the tragedy, along with using the actual transcripts from the US and British inquiries, Dyer develops a very plausible narrative describing the events and possible reasons for the actions that took place. Particularly riveting is the account of the nine members of the Sage family who were third-class passengers onboard the Titanic. While some early parts of the book were a little slow for me, the story really takes off once the inquiry begins. I would recommend the book to a broader audience, more than just those interested in the Titanic.
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