Book Review: The Midnight Watch

The Midnight Watch
Published By: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Page Count: 323
Buy it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction

The Titanic tragedy has long held my fascination. As a kid, I read everything I could find on the subject and was riveted by the footage of Robert Ballard's discovery of the wreckage. As I aged, I continued to learn as much as possible about the voyage and the passengers. I spent countless hours reading and watching documentaries. As a teen, I was overjoyed that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were going to bring the story to life on the big screen. The sinking haunted me in many ways. As an adult, I have been to see artifacts in museums and continued my research and reading. 

I have long been curious about the mysterious ship that many mentioned in their recollections of the events in April of 1912. Many survivors told of a ship in the near distance that never responded to the calls for help. David Dyer brings the story of that ship, The Californian, to light in this novel. Dyer has done a vast amount of research to make sure the story rings with authenticity. I was pleased to learn more about an event that has captivated my mind and to see the aftermath from a different perspective.

The Midnight Watch is told from two main perspectives: the crew from the Californian and John Steadman, a Boston based reporter. The crew segments focus on what they saw and did on the night of the sinking as well as the attempts to cover up anything that could be viewed as negligent. This component of the novel was heartbreaking as I couldn't help wondering how events may have unfolded if the ship had responded to Titanic's flares or SOS messages. Would more lives have been saved? This is a terrible burden to bear and the real crew members must have suffered from terrible guilt. History has never truly determined the extent to which Captain Lord and his ship can be blamed. Ethics becomes a dominant theme throughout this novel. As the novel progresses, readers also experience the tragedy through the eyes of a family from third class.

I enjoyed the style in which the narrative unfolds. It was intriguing to go back and forth between the conflict on the ship and Steadman's quest for answers. I enjoyed learning more about journalism in this time period.

My one small complaint is that there is a lot to wade through in the beginning of the novel. The pace of the novel starts to gain momentum around the halfway mark.

Dyer's novel is a must read for all those interested in the sinking of the Titanic. It prompts one to consider how history may have been altered if the Californian had taken action. Doing the right thing and owning up to mistakes also play a prominent roles. Thought provoking and richly detailed, this is the sort of historical fiction I crave. It is clear that Dyer is passionate about his subject matter. (P.S. - I highly recommend checking out Dyer's website for more interesting tidbits.)

One Last Gripe: My one small complaint was mentioned in the text of the review.

Favorite Thing About The Book: Learning about the Titanic from a new angle

First Sentence: In the early years of the twentieth century my father heard that there was good money to be made in Venezuela.

Favorite Character: Herbert Stone

Least Favorite Character: Captain Lord

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.


  1. This sounds fascinating; oddly enough I recently read about there being another ship in the vicinity of the Titanic who didn't respond for multiple reasons (incorrect color flares? not sure). Anyway, how deeply tragic and can you imagine how the crew of the other ship must have felt post-accident? :(


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