56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard
Published by Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: August 17, 2021
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
I’ve had some hesitancy about COVID novels—too much too soon, but Catherine Howard’s 56 Days had a premise I couldn’t resist. Set in Dublin, a couple that only recently started dating decides to move in together when the country’s lockdown begins. Now, 56 days later a body is discovered in the apartment where they lived.
When Ciara and Oliver met outside a convenience store during lunch hour COVID has barely reached Ireland. It was on the news and being discussed and the first whisperings of a lockdown had begun, but to two young people, it was nowhere near as interesting as this intriguing person they’d just met. Both were new to Dublin and a shared obsession with NASA felt like something too good to be true. Which, of course, it always is, but Howard is such a competent writer that the truth beneath the glossy surface paint reveals itself slowly keeping tension at a slow burn.
After less than a month of dating, lockdown is announced. Either Ciara and Oliver separate or Ciara moves out of her tiny studio and into Oliver’s three-bedroom corporate apartment. The decision is an easy one and soon the two are navigating 24-hour a day bonding. Which seems to be going fairly smoothly, until 35 days later the police are called due to an unpleasant odor coming from the apartment.
Howard is a new breed of suspense writer I’m going to call explosive. Her novels almost always begin with a bang and from there she never releases the readers’ attention. Ciara and Oliver are odd ducks, but is it just fear of the impending pandemic or something more? She gives both their space as chapters change perspective, slowly filling in the blanks of each character and shifting motivations and revelations between the two. Combined with the very real eeriness of a locked down world it feeds on the familiar unease we all felt when our communities fell silent.
The structure of 56 Days plays a pivotal role in the novel’s suspense. Chapters are specific days within the 56 from Ciara and Oliver’s initial meeting up until the present. While this format achieved its goal, it became a bit dizzying. At some points in the narrative, it was Ciara at 21 days and at others it was Oliver. Howard is also a fan of short, punchy chapters which added to the ping-pong effect. That plus a plethora of plot twists dropped my rating somewhat, but 56 Days is still gripping reading, enhanced against a backdrop of a world gone quiet.
If suspense is a genre working for you these days, I highly recommend Howard’s last novel, The Nothing Man.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase of any kind, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).