The Steady Running of the Hour is the first novel from Justin Go. When I read the blurb, I was immediately eager to get reading, and rightly anticipated that this would be one of those books that you can’t put down.
In 1924, mountaineer, and WW1 hero, Ashley Walsingham dies whilst attempting to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He has left his fortune to his former lover Imogen Soames-Andersson; the only problem is, Imogen has disappeared without a trace. Ashley’s lawyers search for her with no joy.
In 2004, Tristan Campbell receives word from Ashley’s law firm that new information about Imogen has come to light, suggesting he is her direct heir and therefore entitled to Ashley’s fortune. Tristan has only a few weeks to investigate the possibility that he is Imogen’s heir, and sets off on journey that takes him from his home in the US, to the archives of Europe and the Eastfjords of Iceland.
The book jumps back and forth between Tristan’s search for the truth and Ashley and Imogen’s love story that begins in the midst of WW1.
Strangely, I found myself able to relate to both the past and the present parts of this novel. I began reading after a week spent skiing in the glorious Alps, and my heart was already heavy at the thought of having to leave the beautiful scenery behind me. Through Ashley’s experiences as a climber, Go manages to perfectly encapsulate exactly what it is that creates such a connection between man and mountain and the reason thousands of people either throw themselves down on a pair of skis, or spend weeks climbing to the summit.
I could also relate to Tristan and his valiant attempt to piece together the remaining fragments of Ashley and Imogen’s relationship; currently I am trying to do the same for a WW1 centenary exhibition at work, so I could easily sympathise with the frustrations of trying to piece together someone’s life with guesswork, scarce documents and gut instinct – something every historian can relate to!
Even though, right from the beginning, you know that Ashley and Imogen’s relationship is doomed, it didn’t detract from their love story. Their tumultuous, desperate brand of love perfectly encapsulated, for me at least, what I imagined thousands of men and women experienced throughout WW1.
I enjoyed that you learn about Ashley and Imogen’s love story chronologically, but then saw Tristan finding the fragments of that story in different stages, trying to fit the pieces into a puzzle, all whilst trying to find direction in his own life and eventually learning from the mistakes of his ancestors.
I raced through the last 100 pages, desperate to find out what happened to Imogen and why she disappeared, desperate to see if Tristan wold figure out the mystery and inherit the fortune. At first I was disappointed by the way Go decided to end the book, but then my reasonable historian’s mind kicked in and I realised that it ended the way a lot of research trips into the past do; not how you expected, not always to your satisfaction and often with more questions than when you started.