book reviewed by Corinna Christopher live on the bookshow 27th June
Date 1914 and war has just started. The Empress Alxandra an 800 passenger ship in the Atlantic ocean has a serious fire (cause not known) and sinks with much chaos and loss of life. Grace, 22 years old finds herself in lifeboat no. 14 together with 38 other passengers. Recently married to Henry she has sadly left him behind on the ship. The lifeboat capacity is supposedly 40 but the ship owners due to cost had reduced the specifications. One of the crew members John Hardie elected to be in charge since he was knowledgeable about the sea.
The following story concentrates on the fate of the survivors as they wait hopefully for rescue. We are introduced to a varied crowd of people and also learn a little about the background life of Grace who is narrating this tale. The boat is very overcrowded and Hardie has to command strict control since they have a long wait for rescue. Some of them fall overboard or die in due course and when a storm is brewing Hardie says they need to lighten the boat. The men are asked to draw straws and two of them heroically go into the sea.
Two dominant women emerge, Mrs Grant and Hannah. They have an altercation with Hardie which results in them pushing him into the sea with Grace reluctantly assisting.
Eventually they are rescued by a passing ship. On arrival in America the three women are charged with the murder of Hardie . Grace has to defend her behaviour with the help of a good lawyer and psychiatrist .I will not reveal the ending at this stage.
This was at the beginning a promising story but failed to deliver and was disappointing. Grace was a shadowy figure and not very convincing Her marriage to Henry seemed strange and her attitude in the boat was also at variance with her character. The reasons for the despatch of Hardie by the two women were not plausible and details of their rescue after 21 days were vague.
Charlotte Rogan graduated from Princeton University with a degree in engineering and architecture, and quotes childhood experiences among a family of sailors provided inspiration.