Justin Go’s ambitious, sprawling and compelling debut novel, The Steady Running of the Hour, lurches from America to England, France, Sweden Germany and Iceland—even stretching to the Himalayas—switching back and forth in time from pre-WWI England to the present.

Tristan Campbell, a postgrad in California in 2004, receives a letter from an English law firm suggesting that he may be the sole inheritor of a sizeable fortune willed in 1924 to a beneficiary who, for all purposes, disappeared that year and never collected the funds, now worth millions. The evidence of his relationship to this beneficiary is tenuous at best, and Tristan is given the task of finding some piece of solid evidence in less than two months.

The novel’s intriguing premise leads Tristan in many directions, following flimsy clues that he hopes will eventually reveal that he is related to the beneficiary, his possible great-grandmother Imogen Soames-Andersson. Imogen and her older sister Eleanor, an artist, were the daughters of a Swedish diplomat and an accomplished English sculptress. They lived in London, where Imogen met explorer Ashley Walsingham in August 1916. The two embark on a brief but intense affair, each acutely aware that Ashley is to be deployed to the Western Front in only a week. After the war, Ashley joins a British expedition to Mt. Everest, where he loses his life—only weeks after leaving his entire fortune to Imogen and her descendants.

Despite a somewhat ambiguous ending, Go’s saga is engaging and infused with large dollops of mystery and romance. The Steady Running of the Hour should appeal to readers of each of these genres.

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