A CRYSTAL-CLEAR, moonless night, an iceberg and not one but two ships steaming at full speed into danger: they’re as thrilling a combination of ingredients as any writer could dare to dream up.
The plot to Sydney author, literature teacher and former lawyer and merchant marine Dyer’s first novel is based not on the writer’s imagination, however, but on real life – specifically, the events surrounding the “unsinkable” Titanic’s sinking 104 years ago.
Largely fact augmented by selective fiction, The Midnight Watch revisits the world’s worst maritime disaster from a vastly different viewpoint to that taken in most retellings: that of individuals on a second, little-known cargo ship, Californian, which like Titanic finds itself on the night of April 14 1912 surrounded by ice.
However, unlike its huge English cousin, Californian cuts its engines and settles in to wait for daylight before continuing its voyage towards the US.
By the time morning dawns, Titanic is on the ocean bed and Californian is a ship divided – divided not by the captain’s decision to delay its progress but by his apparent refusal to respond to distress rockets fired from a vessel nearby. The hours, days and weeks that follow are a time of claims and counter-claims, accusations, allegations and acrimony as Californian’s officers and crew turn on each other and on the press amid a flurry of newspaper fascination with every detail of Titanic’s demise.
Told through the eyes of fictitious Boston American reporter John Steadman, this tale of mystery explores everything from maritime practice to personal conscience to US-English antipathy.
Dyer sets a newsroom-style pace that keeps readers engrossed and eager to uncover the next column centimetre of this brand-new take on one of history’s most dramatic stories as Steadman pursues an explanation for an otherwise-exemplary captain’s dismissal of Titanic’s plea for help.