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Justin Go
The Steady Running of the Hour
Simon & Schuster
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-476-70458-6
Publication Date: 04-15-2014
470 Pages; $26.090
Date Reviewed: 05-16-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  General Fiction

There's a real and satisfying old-fashioned feel to Justin Go's 'The Steady Running of the Hour,' even as Tristan Campbell, a feckless grad student, receives a very 21st-century messenger-delivered letter. He's been summoned to Britain to prove his lineage. A fortune hangs in the balance.

In Wales, in 1914, Ashley Walsingham prepares to scale a mountain. Two characters are about to embark on journeys, and so are readers. As much as we know these paths will cross, that these stories will entwine and intersect, the pleasure is in the reading, in the stories. Love and adventure, destiny and coincidence, acquiescence and intent; in story, in this story, life manages to be larger than itself.

Go writes with a crisp air of assurance and a rich sense of personality and place. His prose in 'The Steady Running of the Hour' is one of the main draws. He manages to heighten everything he writes about, to make it seem more itself, more fraught with meaning, emotion and intent than comes front-loaded. He keeps things time-period-appropriate, but the whole novel has a certain quality feel. The book was written in mahogany, not pine. It's a pleasure to read.

Paired with the prose are the characters, past and present. By beginning with Tristan, in the present, Go locks us into this character, who is intrinsically less interesting than Ashley Walsingham. It's a smart move, and helps to prevent, or at least cut down, on those occasions when the reader might be inclined to want to cuff him about the head and say, "Look, man, look, at how good you've got it!" To a degree, Go deliberately incites these reactions, with the idea of the readers applying the same thoughts to their own lives. But Tristan is driven by his search for storey, and since we're reading a novel, we can't but like him for it.

Ashley Walsingham, our man in the early twentieth century, is another matter. He's well aware of how good he has it, and still wants more, to wit, the war (WWI, trenches), the mountain (Everest) and the hotheaded, hot-blooded love of his life (after a six-day romance), Imogen. He practically brings with him his own soundtrack, and here Justin Go's prose does the heavy lifting required to make all this work. Walsingham's story and segments are exotic, atmospheric and hypnotic enough to cool the overheated character jets.

Women play a less prominent role in 'The Steady Running Of The Hour,' though not less important. Imogen and her sister Ellie are vivid and get some very nicely turned scenes of their own. But they're more lodestones for Walsingham and narrative drivers than they are narrative participants. In the present, Tristan meets a rather lovely seeming young woman named Mireille, and we readers are quite glad to have her in.

The plot creates tension between the segments in the past and the present, cutting back and forth in a manner that manages to avoid seeming arbitrary. Go keeps us intrigued and engaged on both sides of the time line. The setup is strong enough that the book reads rather like a thriller in some respects, thought it is clearly sui generis. There are romantic bits that are truly charming and war bits that are equally alarming. Something for everyone and mostly done well enough to alienate no one.

For all that it assembles the familiar in familiar ways, 'The Steady running of the Hour,' in the end proves to be something unto itself. As a first novel, it does have a "We are the world" feel, but Go limits his scope by keeping a tight focus on a small cast of characters. That's a smart move, one of many you'll find in this novel. Come for the mystery fortune, stay for Mount Everest, and be surprised by how charming all the romance proves to be. The pages turn as steadily as the hours and the hours passed will feel well spent. Look up then, after the end, and look forward to the many hours that remain.

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