The Midnight Watch by David Dyer
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.