Irish author launches new Titanic murder mystery novel

Not every man who worked on the ship lived to see the launch: during the construction of the Titanic, there were 254 reported accidents, including eight fatalities.

One year before its maiden voyage, over 100,000 people gathered to watch the vessel take to the water. Twenty-two tonnes of soap, tallow and train oil were spread on the slipway to lubricate the ship’s passage into the River Lagan. The ship was then towed to a fitting-out berth where, over the course of the next year, her engines, funnels and superstructure were installed and her interior was fitted out. The work was briefly held up when her sister ship Olympic collided with British Royal Navy cruiser Hawke. Shipyard workers had to stop work on the Titanic to repair her sister ship. This delayed the RMS Titanic’s maiden voyage from March 20, 1912, to April 10, 1912.

The Titanic was more than a ship to the people of Belfast. It was a representation of the stature of the city and the people who built it. Blood and guts went into its creation, and this ship — to this day the most talked about, the most famous, the most evocative ship ever to have existed — will forever be linked to Belfast.

The Titanic still holds a fascination that is unique and universal. We are always drawn back to that quiet night in April 1912 when the stars were brighter than ever, though there was no moon. The stillness meant that no waves lapped against the iceberg to give away its position. We are forever stuck in the what-if phase. What if the moon had shone brightly? What if the lookouts had seen the iceberg moments earlier? What if they’d struck the iceberg head on? What if she’d sailed on March 10 as planned? What if they’d had enough lifeboats? There have been other shipwrecks, other disasters at sea, that don’t draw us in the way the Titanic does. People want to see it for themselves, with their own eyes, before it disintegrates completely.

On April 10, 1912, everyone who was anyone made their way to Southampton to see the magnificent ship. Even now, more than 100 years after its launch, people are proud to claim a connection, however distant, to the crew and the passengers of the Titanic. The smallest relationship is important and treasured. So when I visited the Titanic Experience in Cobh and, for the first time, heard that seven first-class passengers had disembarked at Cobh (then called Queenstown), I raised my eyebrows — that was news to me. But more was to come.

I knew about Father Francis Browne through his wonderful collection of photographs both on the Titanic and later during the First World War and his subsequent travels.

The Seventh Passenger by Angie Rowe

The Odell/May family had also taken photographs and had generously donated items that they’d used when aboard the ship to the Titanic Experience in Cobh. The family had come to Ireland to take a motoring holiday around the southern counties.

The tour guide continued on and basically stopped me in my tracks. The thing that caught my attention was that one of the seven passengers had left the ship and wasn’t heard from again. Emily Nichols had disembarked, having travelled on the Titanic with a family friend, Mr Richard Smith, and there was barely any further mention of the lady. A footnote in the information said that she probably returned to her house in London. It was also noted that Mr Smith had died in the disaster and his body, if recovered, had not been identified.

I couldn’t get Emily Nichols out of my head. There was some information about her life before the Titanic but nothing afterwards — except a few lines in the Sheffield Telegraph newspaper reporting that she had, fortunately, left the ship at Queenstown. I thought it odd that so much had been written about the Titanic, its crew and especially its passengers and yet the short stop at Queenstown had somehow been glossed over. That was when I was inspired to find out more and began to research using all resources open to me. I created a murder mystery set on board the Titanic’s maiden voyage and loosely based the character of Amelia Nelson on the mysterious woman.

The Seventh Passenger is the story of the first-class passengers who disembarked from the Titanic at Cobh. District Inspector Lorcan O’Dowd, stationed in Youghal, is tasked with solving the mystery of the murder. A difficult task indeed, as when the RMS Titanic sank, she took with it the crime scene, the witnesses and possibly the murderer.

​The Seventh Passenger by Angie Rowe (Poolbeg Press, £14) is out now in paperback and as an ebook

Belfast Telegraph Life