Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: "The Steady Running of the Hour" by Justin Go

Tristan Campbell's life is fairly uneventful. He's not quite certain what he'd like to do with his future, and he's been drifting emotionally somewhat since the death of his mother to cancer. And then out of the blue, he receives a letter couriered from a prestigious law firm in London which says Tristan may be connected to the beneficiary of an estate, one which has yet to be distributed to its heirs. The law firm summons him to London (at their expense) as soon as possible.

From the attorneys, Tristan learns that in 1924, an Englishman named Ashley Walsingham died while on an expedition to climb Mount Everest. He had left his significant estate to a woman named Imogen Soames-Andersson, with whom he shared an brief yet intense love affair before he went off to fight in World War I. Despite the fact that Ashley hadn't seen Imogen in seven years, and the last time they saw each other they fought angrily, he was determined to leave Imogen his fortune.

Imogen never claimed Ashley's estate, and it has remained in trust for the past 80 years. As a result of new information, the attorneys representing the estate believe that Tristan may be related to Imogen and Ashley, and could very well be the legal heir to the estate, which would mean he would inherit millions of dollars. But time is growing short—the law firm swears Tristan to absolute confidentiality and bids him to find evidence that proves he is connected to this couple who lived 80 years ago. No mean feat there.

Tristan's search for evidence takes him on a frenzied search for information, from museums and libraries in London to France, Sweden, and Iceland. Little by little he starts to uncover the story of Ashley and Imogen, two lovers separated by circumstances of their time, by pride, fear, and uncertainty. And at the same time, as time is running out for him to uncover the information he needs, Tristan starts to unearth his own feelings, left dormant and in pain since his mother's death. In France, he meets Mireille, a troubled young woman who encourages his fact-finding but wonders what the end result truly will mean to him.

"Even if there's an ending to all this, maybe it's lost. Maybe there's a reason it ought to stay lost. And even if you're lucky enough to find an ending, it might not be the ending you wish for."

The Steady Running of the Hour shifts from present time to London in the midst of World War I, the battlefields of the Somme, and the frenzy to climb Mount Everest in the mid-1920s. It's the story of self-discovery, following your passions no matter how self-destructive they may be, and the need for truth. It's also the story of a how a relationship that only lasted a few days truly transformed two people, and it had ramifications for many years to come.

I thought this was a good book. I enjoyed when the book focused on Tristan's search for facts about Imogen and Ashley, and I also enjoyed when the book shifted to focus on Imogen and Ashley's relationship. I could have done without the battle scenes, as I didn't feel they really added much to the plot (at least at the level of detail they went into). But as much as I enjoyed their love story, I found Imogen's character a little off-putting, and I also found Mireille's character more of a distraction than anything else. And I guess I expected something different in terms of how the story would be resolved.

Justin Go's book is meticulously researched and is really fascinating. He's a very talented writer and I enjoyed reading this book, as he made Tristan's search very compelling. I just wish I didn't feel a little bit empty when it was all done.

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