Ever heard of a maritime event called “the Californian Incident”?
Yea. Me neither. It’s not like it’s the Titanic or anything.
But wait. Not so fast. There’s a connection between these two ships. They are tragically intertwined–one mammoth, gleaming passenger liner that slipped beneath the North Atlantic with 1500 souls on board and a tramp steamer, huddled among the icebergs a few miles away observing distress rockets without a response.
It’s astonishing. It’s curious. It’s confusing and maddening. It’s the rescue that never happened. It’s the second officer who reported the rockets. It’s the captain who remained unmoved. It’s a ship laden with shame and guilt. What a story I’ve missed.
Until now. Welcome to the theme of David Dyer’s The Midnight Watch A novel of the Titanic and the Californian. Obviously it’s an eye-opener in the history department. Most people know about some ship beginning with a “C” that was involved, but that was the Carpathia. It arrived a few hours later to pull 700 survivors from lifeboats. The Californian, for whatever reason, stayed put.
And if you want to know why and who was involved, you’ve got to dig into this book. Dyer’s characters are the main players from that April night in 1912. There’s second officer Herbert Stone, who has the midnight watch and sees eight distress rockets. There’s his boss, Captain Stanley Lord, who remains in his cabin and withholds orders to rescue or, at the very least, have a look-see. A third important character, although this is Dyer’s creation, is journalist John Steadman, who covers the disaster and keeps digging for years to get the story.
Why? Why? Why? I was forever wondering and asking and pondering. Why didn’t Stone press his captain? Why did Lord ignore a basic rule of the sea–to always answer a distress call? Even after reading Dyer’s recreation of events surrounding these two ships, I still don’t think I have firm answers. I did, however, finish the book believing The Californian didn’t do enough and that many more people could have been saved.
Please don’t steer clear of The Midnight Watch because of my frustration, although you’ll experience it too. Sorry. You will. The Titanic is a tragedy, and Dyer’s book pulls away the curtain to reveal another layer of misdeeds and misfortunes. Yes. It’s a shameful tale of inaction but at the same time there is suspense and curiosity and the need to learn more about what happened. Go full steam ahead and read it.