Books by journalists: Unsinkable by Dan James

Ok , so I’m not keeping up with this as well as I’d hoped.

I’m still seeking out books by journalists but I keep being distracted by authors I already know. Like Michael Connolly, author of the brilliant Bosch books, or the latest John Grisham novel, which, to be frank, was a mistake because he’s not like the Grisham of old.

Anyway, I found Dan James (aka Dan Waddell, and if you recognise the surname, he is Sid’s son) and his website after stumbling across a discussion he was having on Twitter about the Lucy Meadows case – the transgender teacher from Accrington who took her own life several months after announcing how she planned to change her life.

Dan, who describes himself as a recovering journalist, was very critical the coverage of Meadows’ decision to go from being Mr Upton to Miss Meadows prior to her death. As has been well documented, the coroner in the case, Michael Singleton, has strongly criticised the coverage Miss Meadows received at the hands of the national media, even though there was no reference to the media coverage in evidence presented to the coroner’s court. Anyway, that’s a blog post for another day.

Despite the ‘recovering journalist’  reference and all the connotations that phrase contains, and the fact Waddell attributes his father’s belief of ‘never letting the facts get in the way of a good story’ as key to his success on tabloids (both statements which will wind up the many hard-working, honest, community-minded journalists out there), I did get as far as buying one of his books: Unsinkable, published in 2012.

I’ve never read fiction which is based around historical events before – as in books which actually set out to fill some unknown gaps in an historical event. Waddell, who has opted for the Dan James name for his historical books, has created something pretty special here.

It would easy to be cynical – as a non-recovering journalist – of an author writing fiction set aboard the Titanic on the 100th anniversary of the big ship sinking, but that would be to do a dis-service to one of those books which you keep thinking about when not reading it.

The book begins with Arthur Beck, a former special branch officer who is keen to make a new life for himself away from London following a series of bad results at work, not least his part in the Siege of Sidney Street (which I now know to be an actual event) which left him traumatised.

Aboard Titanic he meets Martha Heaton, a New York journalist who has been sent to cover the first crossing of Titanic. Under strict instructions to do gossip and tittle tattle when she’d much rather do ‘real journalism’ – how much has changed in 100 years? – as well as spotting the man he believes to be the master criminal who got away from Sidney Street.

Is his nemesis really on board the world’s most luxurious liner? With his past never far behind him, Beck has a job to convince those around him that they should allow him to follow his instincts and help him solve the one that got away.

And, of course, this is all set against the backdrop of a tragedy we know is about to unfold. That gives the book a sharper edge, helped by the detailed descriptive passages of life on board which are a mark of true research. The determination of the Titanic’s owners to make history, the innocence of the rich and famous to think everything would be OK, and the back stories of some of those who went down with the ship simply because they weren’t lucky enough to hold a first-class ticket all wind together with the main plot to provide a read-in-one-go finale.

In short: A great book – and one which shows that no matter how often a story is told, there’s always another way to improve on it.

About the book: Unsinkable is available on Amazon from £4.74 on Kindle – click here

 

 

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