Stephen McGinty - Fire in the Night: The Piper Alpha Disaster (4 stars)

Stephen McGinty - Fire in the Night: The Piper Alpha Disaster



The Scotsman journalist Stephen McGinty’s Fire in the Night is a moment-by-hideous-moment account of the Piper Alpha oil platform disaster in which 167 men died, and published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the event, on 6 July. Stitched together from survivor statements, taken mostly from Lord Cullen’s public inquiry into the disaster, McGinty has created, as he puts it, an anatomy of an inferno, imposing order and understanding on terrifying chaos.

Transcripts of Cullen ran to over six million words, and one senses that McGinty felt overwhelmed by the amount of information; his narrative, at times, feels cluttered and slowed by detail. Yet, overall, this is an important book, executed masterfully, which should serve as an accessible record of a historical tragedy. Impressive, too, is his careful use of spare language, saving the sentiment and heightened prose for a flourish right at the end, by which time it is earned, appropriate and heart-wrenchingly effective.


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