Thursday 4 February 2016

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

Subtitled A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian, The Midnight Watch is an incredible, engrossing story by a debut Australian novelist.

Dyer attempts to understand how the Captain and the crew of the Californian, the ship within sight of the sinking Titanic, failed to respond to the Titanic's distress flares - eight in total - until the following morning, when it was all too late.

John Steadman is the reporter who sniffs out that something is amiss. He becomes obsessed with unearthing what really happened on board the Californian that night. He needs to know the how and why...and so do we.

I couldn't put this book down.
I desperately hoped all the way through that somehow Dyer was going to rewrite history and give us a happier ending.

I desperately hoped all the way through that this was not going to be one of those stories that didn't actually answer any of the questions at the end. I really needed to know how this could happen.

Dyer has written a believable, well-researched, deeply psychological study into the nature of human frailty.

He delves into childhood trauma, personality traits and unconscious behaviours.

The real tragedy here is watching history fall through the gaps of miscommunication, assumptions and preconceived ideas. It's about how two men - two decent, flawed men - with contradictory, deeply held beliefs about the role of command, loyalty and leadership failed.

And an answer is provided. One that makes sense; one that feels real.

Due for publication in March with Penguin Australia.


  1. I can understand how you would get caught up in hoping that somehow the tragedy could be averted! The Titanic is always a fascinating topic, and this sounds like a new angle on the story.

    1. Goodreads was doing a giveaway for copies of this book. I'm not sure if the US/UK publication date is the same as Australia, but it should be available soon.

  2. This sounds so interesting. I read a few books about the Titanic a few years ago and what happened with the California seems to be an enigma.

    I have read speculation from what seemed like reliable sources that the vessel in question was not the California and that Stanley Lord was unfairly blamed. I really do not know enough about this to have a strong opinion on it.

    1. Dyer used the transcripts of the two public enquiries - the US and the British - to try and bring the information to light.

      My understanding is that it was actually Captain Stanley Lord that kept insisting that it was not the Titanic that they saw - even though all the times and events match exactly (number of flares, long & latitude, position of ice field etc). It was Lord's unswerving belief that the ship was NOT a passenger liner. He insisted the ship they saw was a smaller vessel, based on the lights he observed (which was after the crash and after the maj of the lights on the Titanic had gone out.)
      It seems such a wilful denial of facts.

  3. Wow, this sounds intense! I'm concerned it might also be too frustrating to be enjoyable, but it seems like a very interesting story.

    1. Curiously it wasn't too frustrating.

      Like Dyer, you get caught up in wanting to know the why. So the fact that he gives you a very plausible reason why makes the story feel resolved somehow.

  4. This sounds very gripping. I'm not specially interested in the Titanic, but you've made this sound irresistible!

    1. Curiously stories about the Titanic itself don't interest me as much (I think I'm one of the few people in this world who couldn't stand the Dicaprio/Winslett movie!)

      But I do enjoy books AROUND the Titanic. There's another story by Eric Fosnes Hansen called Psalm at Jounrney's End that focuses on the stories of the musicians who played right until the ship went down. Their fictionalised bio's were fascinating. I've also been told that Beryl Bainbridge has a great Titanic themed novel.

  5. Anonymous29/4/16

    Wonderful review. Like you, I somehow kept hoping that things would work out differently, which is ridiculous when it comes to a historical event -- but that's how powerful the writing is here. The people all felt so alive, especially the poor Sage family, and I just desperately wanted at least some to be saved.

    1. Thanks Lisa
      Both your comments came through, I just moderate all comments after a the post is a week old.

      I'm so glad this book is travelling the world and finding lots of devoted readers. The Sage story inside a story was a great device for bringing home the human tragedy of what happened.


This blog has now moved to Wordpress.
Please visit This Reading Life to comment.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.