The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go

In brief: A phone call changes Tristan’s world – he just might be the heir to a huge fortune. The only thing he needs to do is prove it – and quickly. Moving between lovers in World War I and a modern race across Europe, will Tristan find out if he is the rightful heir?

The good: Beautiful prose and an elegant mystery.

The not-so-good: The ending. I don’t mind some ambiguity, but this was too much for me.

Why I chose it: Sent to me by the kind folk at Allen and Unwin.

Year: 2014

Pages: 465 (ARC)

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Setting: America, Europe and Asia

My rating: 6.5 out of 10

If you’re a regular reader of my views, you’ll be aware that I adore covers. Naturally, The Steady Running of the Hour‘s cover stopped me in my tracks. A gorgeous hat! Great accessories! The Downton Abbey-esque image had me captivated, as did the blurb for the plot. A missing fortune, a race to find out the truth, separated lovers and a dual narrative across time? Perfect. Unfortunately the ending didn’t live up to my expectations (I’m a Type A personality, please give me at least some closure or resolution) but prior to that, I was held captive to the story.

The story begins as university graduate Tristan receives a mysterious letter from London, telling him he could be the heir to a significant estate. Immediately, he calls the solicitor’s office to find that it’s no joke. It’s possible that he may be the descendant of Imogen Soames-Andersson, who never collected what was left to her in Ashley Walsingham’s will. But who are these people and how is Tristan connected to them? It’s a question that Tristan needs to answer and provide evidence to prove he is the rightful heir. There are some family issues that are hinted at, but not explored. That didn’t really matter to me because I was looking forward to Tristan’s big adventure and finding out the story of Imogen and Ashley.

Initially, the race for Tristan’s potential inheritance is exciting, as he’s got less than two months to prove his family connection. There are big fancy lawyer offices, big fancy hotels and the wonder of Europe for the first time. Go catches this beautifully – you can feel Europe revealing itself at Tristan’s feet – and then the journey begins. Tristan’s search is of course, convoluted. There are red herrings and his interest takes him office on tangents that his solicitor thinks are useless. On the way, he meets Mireille in France and the pair forge a connection. It seemed kind of flickering to me – he wants her, she doesn’t and then the pair swap the intensity of their affections. It didn’t detract away from Tristan’s search for me, but I also didn’t understand why Mireille wanted him to quit and return to her. Was it a test of his affection? Was it reflective of Ashley and Imogen’s relationship?

In between Tristan’s journey is the story of Ashley and Imogen – how they meet, fall in love and eventually separate. For me, this was the big romance of the book (not Tristan and Mireille, which is spectacularly chaste) – there are wild affections, declarations and acts of both passion and fury. Yet Imogen’s actions are somewhat self-destructive. She has bohemian, feminist ideas for the World War I era, but it’s like she refuses to give in to happiness. And Ashley can’t or won’t go after her. So two people remain apart and Imogen disappears while Ashley longs after her. He never sees her after an eventful time in France, yet decides to leave his fortune to her. Was that crazy, short period of affection enough for a lifetime? And why did Imogen never collect her inheritance?

Unfortunately, most of these questions are left for the reader to decide. Tristan’s climactic moment in Iceland is left hanging and we are left with a casual mention to Mireille of the fate of his fortune. The epilogue discusses more about the expeditions to Everest (not overly interesting to me, but incredibly detailed and I know some would love how mountaineering fits into the storyline) but nothing about the protagonists. That was disappointing to me – I wanted to find out more about the characters’ actions and the consequences of choices made in their youth.

I did enjoy the story until the ending. It’s a bit twisty and wieldy in places, but incredibly well researched and detailed. I particularly enjoyed the detail in Ashley’s war experiences – the picture painted by Go was intricately comprehensive.

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