The Steady Running of the Hour

Written by Justin Go
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

In 1916, a few days before going to war, Ashley Walsingham falls in love with Imogen Soames-Andersson. In 1996 San Francisco, Tristan Campbell learns that when Ashley Walsingham died during the 1924 Mount Everest expedition, he left his money to Imogen Soames-Andersson, who never claimed it. If Tristan can prove he is a direct descendant of Imogen, he will gain the fortune. The catch: Tristan has only a few months to prove his connection or the money will be given to charity.

The story switches between Tristan’s investigation and Ashley and Imogen’s love story. Tristan’s grandmother, the daughter of Imogen’s sister, was born in rural Sweden, where Imogen and her sister spent the winter. Timing suggests that the baby could have been Imogen and Ashley’s out-of-wedlock child. The days before Ashley leaves for war are the stuff of love’s poetry. Go makes you believe their love is unique in all history. Imogen cannot understand why Ashley chooses the war over staying with her. They write beautiful letters to one another, but when Ashley almost dies, and again refuses to run away with her, Imogen breaks it off. Or does she? Ashley and Imogen’s love story is breathtaking, the characters intense and perfectly flawed. The war is grimy and terrifying, the Everest expedition cold and fascinating.

Tristan’s frantic ancestry search takes him all over Europe where he finds clue after clue, getting so close to discovery. I read the last 200 pages without breathing. The ending left me utterly disappointed. I understand the author’s literary reasons, but as a reader I was not satisfied. Until the last two chapters, I thought it one of the best books I’d read this year. Cautiously recommended.