Summary and book reviews of The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

The Midnight Watch

A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian

by David Dyer

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

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Book Summary

David Dyer's 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.

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 Titanic was 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.

A Note on the Writing of The Midnight Watch

The Midnight Watch is a work of fiction based on true events. Much of what is described in the novel is the result of careful research and represents my best guess as to what actually happened during the Californian's voyage and afterwards. Other parts of the novel are pure invention, and some parts are a blend of fact and fiction.

John Steadman is entirely my own creation. The Boston American, however, was a real newspaper and was the paper that broke the Californian story by publishing Ernest Gill's affidavit. All quoted newspaper stories and headlines are true, and much of what is said in the novel's various press encounters is taken directly from contemporaneous newspaper reports. I have based my portraits of Philip Franklin, Senator Smith, Sydney Buxton, Lord Mersey, Sir Rufus Isaacs and other minor figures on historical sources, but the IMM Boston agent Jack Thomas is entirely a product of my imagination.

John and Annie...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The historical incident that underlies The Midnight Watch seems to have slipped from public memory, even while interest in the Titanic has grown stronger. Why do you think that is?
  2. The exact reason why the Californian did not respond to the Titanic's rockets can perhaps never be known, but how plausible do you find the answer offered by the novel?
  3. Discuss the way in which The Midnight Watch brings vividly to life the Boston of Steadman's time. How might you describe the characterization of other cities in the novel (New York, Washington, London, Liverpool)?
  4. Consider the ways in which The Midnight Watch reflects on technological change: the effect of new technologies on Steadman's job, on daily life, on the maritime industry, and ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This is an insightful, provocative and well-written novel. I recommend the book to a broad audience, more than just those interested in the Titanic.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (507 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

From the muddy streets and dark taverns of Boston to the frigid, murky waters of the North Atlantic, Dyer's debut novel turns the kaleidoscope, retelling the tale of the unsinkable ship through a new lens

Author Blurb Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat
I completely loved The Midnight Watch; this is historical fiction at its best. David Dyer has a reporter's ear for story, a detective's nose for motive, and an artist's eye for detail.

Author Blurb Hazel Gaynor, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home and A Memory of Violets
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.

Author Blurb Peter Nichols, bestselling author of The Rocks
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.

Author Blurb Matthew Pearl, New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Last Bookaneer
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.

Reader Reviews

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 ...   Read More

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...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Missed Signals

Could the tragedy of the RMS Titanic that unfolded on 15 April 1912, have been prevented or the casualty toll severely decreased? This is the question that anchors The Midnight Watch. The SS Californian, which left Liverpool and was headed for Boston with cargo, was in close enough range of the Titanic for some kind of rescue operation to have been carried out but that never happened. The captain of the ship, Stanley Lord, was widely vilified in the press and in congressional hearings but the verdict remains open about exactly could have been done and to what extent.

The SS Californian Both the Titanic and the Californian were navigating an ice field the day of the tragedy and as it happens, Captain Lord, finding the ship close to a treacherous area, ...

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