In Justin Go's debut novel, “The Steady Running of the Hour,” wealthy English mountaineer Ashley Walsingham succumbs in 1924 to the relentless ice and snow of Mount Everest — the same challenging mountain that just claimed a number of guides from Nepal last month.
Walsingham had willed his fortune to former lover Imogen Soames-Andersson, who disappeared without claiming it, and 80 years later, her descendent Tristan Campbell hears from a London law firm that he may be the heir if he can prove his connection to Imogen.
Debut novelist Go, who will appear at Tattered Cover/Colfax at 7:30 p.m. May 15 and at the sold-out Booktopia Boulder 2014 from May 16-18, has spun a complex, skillfully crafted, well-researched tale about the search for Imogen's story and clues to her whereabouts some 80 years later. Where did she live? Were there any descendents?
Can Tristan find believable clues? In London, Paris, Norway, Iceland …
Chapters alternate between Ashley's world, his war service — including horrifying descriptions of a soldier's life in the trenches in France — and his later return to a pursuit of serious mountaineering.
In a brief interval before reporting to World War I army duty, the young man, who had inherited a fortune (and could therefore pursue the mountain climbing), met and fell totally in love with erratic Imogen Soames- Andersson. Their encounters in wartime London and surroundings are described with rich details of what people wore, what they thought about, what they ate and more.
The complicated book alternates between chapters set in decades past and in today's world as young Tristan follows clues about Imogen, his great-grandmother, who wandered in search of happiness, and about her lover Ashley, who survived the horrors of war and was defeated by a mountain.
There are letters, old records, maps, early newspaper accounts, musty attics, lots of cold and snow and eventually a connection to the world for Tristan in today's setting.
Go is a talented storyteller. He studied at University of California-Berkeley, where he received a bachelor's degree in history and art history and University College, London, where he earned a master's degree in English. He left his job with a law firm at age 27 to head to Berlin and write a novel, although he did not speak German. He traveled and wrote for three years: in England, Germany, France, Sweden, Iceland and to the base of Mount Everest, chasing his stories as his young protagonist did.
He then worked in a New Orleans hotel as desk clerk, at age 32, while he completed his novel.
When Go sent unsolicited copies to agents, he had immediate response — a highly unusual situation — and was soon launched, with publication in Britain and the U.S. in many languages.
Anyone familiar with the difficulties of even getting through to an editor at a major publisher will recognize what a remarkable story centers on this young author — who is now at work on a second novel.