Book review: 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

Thursday, January 27, 2022 Permalink

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard is the first book I’ve read to centre around the Coronavirus. I mean, it’s not specifically about the virus but its plot turns upon the arrival of the virus in Ireland in 2020 and its resulting upheaval.

Of course many other novels have started to reference Covid in some way or another. Generally it’s a reflection on recent concerns or extra cautions required, but 56 Days is very much about the early days of the virus and I was surprised at how evocative this was. I quite enjoyed being reminded of our thoughts and feelings back then. When we knew so little.

Having said that this is also a murder mystery so… Covid really only provides the opportunity.

Book review: 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard56 Days
by Catherine Ryan Howard
Published by Corvus Books
on 05/01/2022
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781838951634
Pages: 432

Ciara and Oliver meet in a supermarket queue in Dublin the same week Covid-19 reaches Irish shores.

When lockdown threatens to keep them apart, Oliver suggests that Ciara move in with him. She sees a unique opportunity for a new relationship to flourish without the pressure of scrutiny of family and friends. He sees it as an opportunity to hide who - and what - he really is.

Detectives arrive at Oliver's apartment to discover a decomposing body inside.

Weirdly this is also the second book I’ve read in quick succession about the same past secret. An old crime. Dues paid. (Although I’ve not published the other review yet…. so you’ll have to wait for that one.)

This is cleverly written. It’s not just the ‘Is this really happening?’ early days Covid references but also the fact the book goes back and forth in time. From 56 days ago (obvs) to the present. It then jumps forward (a few days) in the past (so 53 days ago) and so forth. In essence (in the past) we’re just moving along with Oliver and Ciara as their relationship grows.

However… in a Stephenie Meyer-esque twist, we also revisit some of the same days and scenes from a second point of view. So, while initially we think Ciara is our narrator (along with DI Leah Riordan in the present) we jump back in time to re-experience scenes from Oliver’s point of view.

I really liked our lead characters – both Ciara and Oliver – as well as Leah (Lee) and her partner Karl. Oliver is obviously keeping secrets and the more we get to know him, the more we learn about his past. But it’s obvious that Ciara is not being completely honest herself… Howard cleverly words some of her narration in a way that we know she’s sometimes acting in a way she thinks she should, rather than what comes naturally. So we wonder why…

The secret-keeping is just part of the twisty read Howard offers us. In the present we have a murder – though for some time we don’t know who it is. Of course as the gap between the present and the recent past diminishes more secrets are revealed. But they’re not always as we suspect and Howard does a great job at making us think we know what’s coming but…. being wrong.

In some ways there’s a sadness to this book. A poignancy perhaps. There’s a reflection on past mistakes and their bearing on the present.

I very much enjoyed this and it’s the first book I’ve read by Howard. She writes about the early days of Covid in her notes at the end of the novel and we learn more about her inspiration. It’s really well done and she manages to remind readers of the sense of trepidation we felt then. Uncertainty about what was to come, but at the same time expecting a quick crisis before life returned to normal. She doesn’t belabour the virus stuff though. It’s more of a backdrop or a setting – a marker of time and place – rather than being part of the plot itself.

56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.


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