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56 Days


56 Days

As most of the world was at home during lockdown and cocooning to the max, authors were in the same boat, and their writing could have gone in one of two directions. They could have written about the pandemic or somehow infused it into their work. The more popular choice was to write solid, entertaining, escapist fiction in worlds that were not impacted by COVID-19 to allow readers to disappear into a novel and forget about what was going on in the real world.

Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard chose the first option with her book, 56 DAYS. In a brilliant turn, she not only references the pandemic but uses it as a plot device to hide an alleged murder. In the Author Notes, she indicates how the characters had kept her company, and she wishes that in a brighter, more hopeful world, their story would entertain us as well.

"In a brilliant turn, [Howard] not only references the pandemic but uses it as a plot device to hide an alleged murder.... 56 DAYS is pure perfection and a psychological thriller of the highest order."

Howard has become a must-read author. An Edgar Award finalist for THE LIAR’S GIRL, she produced the most unique take on the serial killer novel I have ever read with THE NOTHING MAN. So it goes without saying that I eagerly awaited the opportunity to read and review 56 DAYS. As the title indicates, the story unfolds over a period of 56 days, the majority of which are during the government-imposed pandemic lockdown, this one taking place in Dublin, Ireland.

Each chapter is set on a different day during this timeline. It's a genius move from Howard, who can keep readers off-balance thanks to this disparate storytelling, which skillfully reveals and hides key plot twists. The first chapter is set “Today,” and we find two detectives from the Gardai investigating the discovery of a body in one of the many apartment units at a tightly compressed complex in Dublin. Fifty-six days ago was the first meeting of Oliver and Ciara, both of whom were at a local grocery store in the self-checkout line. They run into each other again at 53 days, and Oliver clumsily asks Ciara out to a movie. He has learned in their brief time chatting that she is a fan of anything related to NASA and astronauts, and he has found a cinema playing a film in that genre.

The pandemic hits incredibly early in their relationship, and they find themselves spending more time in their apartments. Eventually they will choose Oliver’s flat as Ciara’s is way too small. They learn more about each other, like how Ciara is originally from Cork and Oliver has just returned to Ireland after living in London. He also spends a lot of time texting and phoning someone named Rich, who he says is his brother from Australia.

When the action returns to “Today,” we see the detectives questioning various neighbors and gathering data primarily about Oliver. As the novel propels forward, you will have a challenging time putting it down as two very odd and telling plot twists are revealed. There are many questions about Oliver and Ciara for which you will want answers, and you will be eager to find out whose body was found by the Gardai.

56 DAYS is pure perfection and a psychological thriller of the highest order. For fans of Howard’s work, you will appreciate the slick mention of the serial killer known as The Nothing Man --- a great shoutout to her prior novel.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 20, 2021

56 Days
by Catherine Ryan Howard