Long Lost Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 5th April 2016 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 323
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
★   ★  ★  ★ ★ – 5 Stars

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. 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 soon as I saw this book was being published I put it on my list because I love things about the Titanic and this story sounded incredible. The small decisions and indecisions and multitude of factors that contributed to the Titanic disaster is amazing and this book shows how a series of events outside of the Titanic’s control also contributed to the rescue effort and the aftermath.

Dyer does an absolutely fantastic job placing us there on the night with the SS Californian. We get the perspectives of multiple people on multiple ships, those in charge and those in board and honestly the fictional story Dyer has woven about these people’s lives and their hopes, dreams, and families is incredible. I became invested with these passengers and their experiences, I was there with Stone as he reports what he sees and the doubt, anger and injustices of the events in the time afterwards. The alternating points of view, even if brief, give another sliver of detail and evidence about what happened that night and seeing it play out as you read, when you know the outcome, is actually quite hard because seeing the failures, even in a piece of fiction, is heartbreaking.

I often find myself getting angry when I learn something new about the failures that led to the sinking of Titanic and how much of it was human error as well as natural circumstances. I get angry at those who put class above survival, I get angry at empty lifeboats, I get angry that no one responded in time to the distress signals. This book ignited my passion again and it was fascinating to see a perspective I’d never seen before.

The research Dyer has done is evident and even the fictionalised passengers felt like they came from a real place. They were alive on the page which honestly made reading their story even more heartbreaking because essentially these were real people. These are their stories and the stories of the hundreds of others who perished on that night.

When things get this much attention and you dive deeper into the causes you realise there is more than one person responsible for such a tragedy, but it also makes you realise that if one person had gone a different path, made a different decision, done their job properly, then you realise how close everything came to being completely different and with one different decision hundreds of lives could have been saved.

The exploration of human nature, the flaws, the failings and the clear evidence that when put in a corner humans can often be their own worst selves if it means survival and self-preservation will captivate and anger you as you read. I was fascinated and ashamed and amazed by every page and every moment and Dyer has gone into such detail that I believed and mourned for their characters and their circumstances whether they were on the ship or not.

There is so much more to the story of Titanic and this is another brilliant tale about those on the outside looking in and how it isn’t just those on the Titanic that are responsible, but those around her as well. This story is a fascinating look at the aftermath as well as the night itself in how the press, public and those involved reacted and coped after the fact and the quest for finding justice for the lives lost that night.

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