On a black night in April 1912, fifteen hundred passengers and crew perish as the Titanic slowly sinks beneath the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Charting the same perilous course through the icebergs is the SS Californian, close enough for her crew to see the eight white distress rockets fired by the Titanic. Yet the Californian fails to act, and later her crew insist that they saw nothing.
As news of the disaster spreads throughout America, journalists begin a feeding frenzy, desperate for stories. John Steadman is one such reporter, a man broken by alcoholism, grief and a failed marriage. Steadman senses blood as he fixates on the Californian and his investigation reveals a tense and perplexing relationship between the ship’s captain and second officer, who hold the secrets of what occurred that night. Slowly he peels back the layers of deception, and his final, stunning revelation of what happened while the Titanic sank will either redeem the men of the Californian, or destroy them.
I didn’t really know way to expect when I started reading this novel but I found it to be a fascinating and at times heartbreaking read. John Steadman is a journalist. His personal life is a mess but he finds solace in becoming a champion of the ones who have been failed. When he suspects that something is not quite right with the accounts of those onboard the SS Californian he becomes obsessed with learning and revealing the truth.
It was hard to warm to most onboard the SS Californian. Herbert Stern wasn’t supported by his captain when he notified him about what he was seeing from the stricken Titanic but for some reason remained loyal to him throughout the investigation. It seemed like he was the only one who mourned any loss of life. Some of others were just concerned about selling their accounts.
The final section of the novel, about the Sage family was devastating to read. A fictionalised account of a family who were actually onboard and all perished. I could just imagine the fear that they felt when along with so many others they watched lifeboats sail away half empty.
I very much enjoyed this novel and would like to thank the publisher for the copy received.
The Titanic Memorial, Belfast.