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18 April 2014

Justin Go: The Steady Running of the Hour

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A parallel plot dilemma
Because there have been so many novels about WWI, Justin Go probably tried to make his story different by adding a parallel plot based in the present day. The book is a mixture of a WWI romance/war/climbing/tragedy and a modern sleuth story to find the descendents of the people in the WWI story - a parallel plot that IMHO really doesn't work that well.

Tristan Campbell has just finished college in LA when he gets a letter from a solicitor in London about a possible legacy from the 1920's that has never been never claimed. After nearly 80 years the trustees for a huge estate left by Ashley Walsingham, who was killed trying to climb Everest in 1924, have not identified the beneficiary. The trustees have new information that make them think that Tristan may be the descendant of Imogen Soames-Anderson, mentioned in the will, who knew Ashley briefly just before he left for the front in 1916. The real problem is that Tristan only has a few weeks to prove his heritage before the estate is distributed to other beneficiaries.

The book eloquently describes the forbidden affair between Imogen, an independent minded young woman, and Ashley and the tragic consequences of the affair amid the conflicts of war. The descriptions of war are well written and harrowing. Ashley's climbing adventures give a great insight into early mountaineering in the Himalayas. Imogen's experiences in a Downton Abbey kind of environment are painful.

Tristan embarks on a chase around Europe for evidence of Ashley and Imogen's relationship and her disappearance after the war. The more he learns the less he understands and the clock is ticking.

I found Go's writing was compelling, especially for a debut novel, but  the use of the em dash instead of quotation marks for dialogue was hard to follow. The real problem I had with the book was that I got lost keeping up with the parallel stories from the present and past. While I concentrated on the present, descriptions of the past almost became as distraction to be skipped through to the next chapter about the present. IMHO the book would have been much better as a standalone WWI novel than an interwoven mixture of two stories that left me unsatisfied because I found it difficult to know which story to follow. I was also disappointed by the inconclusive endings for both plots - I expected more from such a long and complex story.

My thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for a copy of the book.

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