The Midnight Watch

David Dyer

The Midnight Watch
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The Midnight Watch

David Dyer

David Dyer’s astonishing novel The Midnight Watch is based on the true story of the SS Californian, the ship that saw the Titanic’s distress rockets and yet, unfathomably, did nothing. A psychological thriller.

Sometimes the smallest of human failings can lead to the greatest of disasters. As the Titanic was sinking slowly in the wretchedly cold North Atlantic, she could see the lights of another ship on the horizon. She called for help by Morse lamp and the new Marconi telegraph machine, but there was no response. Just after midnight the Titanic began firing distress rockets.

The other ship, the Californian, saw these rockets but didn’t come. Why not?

When the story of the disaster begins to emerge, it’s a question that Boston American reporter John Steadman cannot let go. As soon as he lays eyes on the Californian’s captain and second officer, he knows a story lurks behind their version of events. So begins his strange journey towards the truth. Haunted by the fifteen hundred who went to their deaths in those icy waters, and by the loss of his own baby son years earlier, Steadman must either find redemption in the Titanic’s tragedy or lose himself.

Based on true events, The Midnight Watch is at once a heart-stopping mystery and a deeply knowing novel - about the frailty of men, the strength of women, the capriciousness of fate and the price of loyalty.


It’s been said before that the three most written about subjects in the English language are God, war and the Titanic. When I met the author of The Midnight Watch, David Dyer, I asked him why we continue to be intrigued by the story of the Titanic. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘This is because it took time for the boat to sink. There were witnesses and there were opportunities for moral compasses to swing. Sometimes the smallest of human failings can lead to the greatest of disasters.’

The Midnight Watch, Dyer’s first novel, captures this fickleness of fate. The novel centres on the inexplicable true story of the mysterious inaction of Captain Lord, and, to a lesser extent, First Officer Stone, who were both awake at midnight, aboard the Californian, the ship whose proximity to the Titanic could have saved over 1,500 people. Told mostly through the eyes of John Steadman, a fictitious reporter for the Boston American, the particulars of this enthralling and tragic story are investigated, the fury of political leaders is conveyed, and the distress of families and friends is recalled.

Steadman spares no efforts in his pursuit of the truth, and we cannot help but follow him through this affecting tale that brings to life a world reeling from tragedy in the midst of fresh class disruption and the beginnings of the feminist movement. This excellent historical novel pushed me into new territory. I found myself researching for more stories of the accident, reaching for more facts from the night, re-watching A Night to Remember and berating myself for my seemingly macabre interest. Dyer, though, would say the fascination isn’t about the deaths, but rather about the hubris of humanity. His work is evidence of a longstanding fascination shared by many, and the result of this interest, in Dyer’s case, is a novel that is disarming, compelling and, most importantly, compassionate.

Chris Gordon is the Events Manager for Readings.

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