David Dyer is a Sydney-based teacher and author.
David Dyer is a Sydney-based teacher and author. Photos Contributed

Books: The Midnight Watch is a Titanic mystery

HAS there been a book written before about the Titanic where the Titanic was not the main star? Perhaps.

But definitely so now that Sydney author David Dyer has released The Midnight Watch, a suspenseful mystery/thriller about that historic night of April 15, 1912, when the Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The Midnight Watch is a work of fiction mingled with hard facts and focuses on the SS Californian, a ship nearby when the Titanic hit the iceberg.

Californian was so close it could have quickly come to the rescue. But did not.

"The book relies on the fact that this is a true story," David said. "I think the readers might be surprised how much in The Midnight Watch is true.

" I have invented one character; all of the others are true."

The premise of the story is why the Californian's master, Captain Lord, did not respond to eight distress rockets fired from the sinking Titanic, and the relentless investigation by a fictitious character, journalist John Steadman.

"The Titanic is like an opera singer in the book," David said. "Always hovering around off-stage. It forms the background."

The star of the book is Steadman. He knows there is another story lurking behind the official version being touted by Captain Lord.

"The Californian had already stopped for the night when the Titanic sank," David said.

"It had run into a low slushy ice field and stopped to drift and wait for the dawn to see its way through. While it stopped the Captain had a little sleep and the 2nd Mate saw the distress rockets. He reported it to the Captain but they did nothing.

"You can imagine the next morning when the radio news came through. The Captain ran for cover to hide the truth when he realised the Titanic had sunk and 1500 people had lost their lives."

When the Californian finally sailed into Boston, its destination when the Titanic disaster occurred, Steadman, a crumpled and seemingly befuddled Detective Colombo type, was there to greet it. He had a nose for the mystery of why the ship did not respond to the distress flares and the story is taken up through his narrative.

David says he had been researching the book, subconsciously, since he was 4-years-old.

"I fell in love with the Titanic story before it was the international industry it is today," he said. "I became obsessed with it, gobbling up every bit of information. The idea to write about this angle of the story came when I was working in London. I went to Liverpool, then Boston and New York to research."

And what does David think of James Cameron's film?

"I expected to hate it but I loved it," he said. "I thought it would be a trashy Hollywood love story with this horrendous event as backdrop.

"Then I realised it really was a love story, but one from James Cameron to the Titanic. I have never seen a ship so accurately brought to life (on film)."

The Midnight Watch is an exciting mystery, a penetrating story about the fragility of men, the strength of women, the capriciousness of fate and the price of loyalty.

"It is almost like a Watergate," David said. "Does Captain Lord get away with his cover up? You have to get to the very end of the book to find that out."

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer is published by Hamish Hamilton, $32.99, in bookshops now.