Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Most disasters have more than one cause. If this hadn’t happened, and then that at the same time... Such was the case on the night of April 14, 1912.

Was the ship traveling too fast? Each day it covered more nautical miles than the day before. Speed had not been its original priority. However, rumors hinted J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, urged Captain Smith to try for a record. Did Ismay do that? Did Smith heed him?

Six Marconigrams from other ships in the area warned of ice. At noon on Sunday, the Titanic received a warning of icebergs. Then, that night, the wireless system went down, and Radioman Phillips spent four hours fixing it. By the time he finished, he was swamped with passengers’ messages. Did that cause him to ignore the iceberg warning messages?

Strangely, there were no binoculars in the crow’s nest, as there should have been. The second officer searched the ship but couldn’t find them.

The night was bitterly cold. Although stars twinkled, there was no moon. Survivors described the sea “as still as plate glass.” No waves splashed up against an iceberg to reveal it. The lookouts saw only a “blue berg,” meaning one which had recently turned over and was dark with sea water.

At 11:40, Lookout Fred Fleet spotted the iceberg. He gave three tugs on the brass bell, picked up the telephone to the bridge, and said, “Iceberg straight ahead.” On the bridge, Officer Murdoch shouted, “Hard a-Starboard,” and Quartermaster Hitchens rang for “Full Steam Astern,” and spun the wheel. Slowly the bow turned to Port and they thought they had missed the iceberg. But its underwater mass scraped along the hull, popping rivets and opening a huge gash in the side of the ship.


In an article in Time Magazine on March 19, 2012, two physicists from Texas State proposed that on January 4, 1912, the sun and moon lined up with Earth in such a way that their gravity led to unusually high tides. The moon made its closest approach to Earth in 400 years, increasing its gravitational pull. On January 3, the Earth made its closest approach to the sun that year. By April, the physicists theorized, the historically high tides might have caused an old iceberg, grounded near Labrador, to break loose and move into the shipping lanes into the path of the Titanic. Was that the possible reason for the disaster?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


It’s been three years since the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the most famous ship in the world. Having written my novel about it, COLD APRIL, in 2010 and Camel Press having published it a year later, I wrote a series of blog posts about the many interesting things I learned in my research, which never found their way into the book.

The first was an incredible coincidence. In 1898, fourteen years before Titanic made its maiden voyage, a book was published by Morgan Robertson which seemingly predicted the disaster. It was titled “FUTILITY, or The Wreck of the Titan.”

Robertson named his imaginary ship Titan long before the White Star Line named the second of its three massive ships Titanic. But the similarities between the fictional and the real don’t end there. In FUTILITY, the Titan was the largest ship ever built and deemed “unsinkable.” Around midnight on an April night, while sailing between England and New York, it struck an iceberg on its starboard side and, due to insufficient lifeboats, took most of its passengers down with it. Sound familiar? There’s more.

In both cases the ships were made of steel, had three propellers and two masts, and could accommodate 3000 passengers. Many other details were close, if not identical. The Titan was 800 feet long, the Titanic 882. The Titan’s horsepower was 40,000, the Titanic’s 46,000. Titan had nineteen watertight compartments, the Titanic sixteen. Titan carried twenty-four lifeboats, Titanic twenty. There were 3000 people on board the Titan, 2228 on the Titanic.  Titan’s speed on impact with the iceberg was twenty-five knots, Titanic’s twenty-two and a half. However, whereas in the 1898 novel, a mere thirteen people survived, 705 survived Titanic.

I’ve read FUTILITY, and the plot is nothing like any other novel about the Titanic or any film about it. Aside from that, it’s not well written and no doubt sank quickly after publication (pun intended), rendering it all but forgotten by April, 1912.

Who would believe a story in which (1) the largest and strongest ship ever built, (2) deemed unsinkable, (3) on its maiden voyage, (4) carrying some of the world’s wealthiest people, (5) would strike an iceberg and sink in less than three hours?

There are six blog posts in this series. Be sure to read next week’s episode.

Friday, March 6, 2015


Every year the Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar Awards, named for famed mystery author Edgar Allen Poe. This year the Awards banquet will be held in New York on April 29. There are fourteen categories, such as Best Novel, Fact Crime, short stories, Juvenile, TV show, etc.

The nominees for six of the adult Awards are:

Best Novel

THE DARK ROAD TO MERCY, by Wiley Cash (Harper Collins)
WOLF by Mo Hayder (Grove/Atlantic)
MR. MERCEDES by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster)
THE FINAL SILENCE by Stuart Neville (Soho Press)
SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown)
COPTOWN by Karin Slaughter (Delacorte Press)

Best First Novel

DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY, by Tom Bouman (W.W. Norton)
INVISIBLE CITY by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books)
THE LIFE WE BURY by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street Books)
BAD COUNTRY by C. B. McKenzie (Thomas Dunne Books)
SHOVEL READY by Adam Sternbergh (Crown)
MURDER AT THE BRIGHTWELL by Ashley Weaver (Thomas Dunne)

Best Paperback Original

THE SECRET HISTORY OF LAS VEGAS by Chris Abani (Penguin Books)
STAY WITH ME by Alison Gaylin (William Morrow)
THE BARKEEP by William Lashner (Thomas and Mercer)
THE DAY SHE DIED by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
THE GONE DEAD TRAIN by Lia Turner (William Morrow)
WORLD OF TROUBLE by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

Best Fact Crime

KITTY GENOVESE by Kevin Cook (W.W. Norton)
THE SAVAGE HARVEST by Carl Hoffman (William Morrow)
THE OTHER SIDE by Lacy M. Johnson (Tin House Books)
TINSELTOWN, by William Mann (Harper Collins)
THE MAD SCULPTOR by Harold Schecter (Amazon - New Harvest)

Best Critical/Biographical

THE FIGURE OF THE DETECTIVE by Charles Brownson (McFarland & Co.)
JAMES ELLROY by Jim Mancall (McFarland & Co.)
KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS by Robert Miklitsch (U. of Ill Press)
JUDGES & JUSTICE & LAWYERS & LAW by Francis M. Nevins (Perfect Crime Books)
POE-LAND by J. W. Ocker (Countryman Press)

Young Adult

THE DOUBT FACTORY by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little Brown)
NEARLY GONE, by Elle Cosimano (Penguin - Kathy Dawson Books)
FAKE ID by Lamar Giles (Harper - Amistad)
THE ART OF SECRETS by James Klise (Algonquin)
THE PRINCE OF VENICE BEACH by Blake Nelson (Little, Brown)

For those of you interested in such things, here are some facts: Of the 33 authors, 8 are women, and 4 more might be women (I’m guessing about pen names). 30 publishers are well-known traditional publishers, one is a university press, and 2 are Amazon imprints.