Book review: 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard

Despite not being sure I was ready for a book set during the pandemic I was soon riveted by Catherine Ryan Howard’s latest psychological thriller 56 Days. Whilst the pandemic is not the focal point of the novel, Howard uses the unique circumstances created by the lockdown in Ireland to help drive suspense in the plot.

People think the decisions you make that change the course of your life are the big ones. Marriage proposals. House moves. Job applications. But she knows it’s the little ones, the tiny moments, that really plot the course. Moments like this.

Clare and Oliver, both new to Dublin, meet it a supermarket queue and start dating. The new lovers navigate their tentative romance deciding what to reveal to other about themselves as each begins to believe the other may be ‘the one’. When the government announces a strict two week lockdown due to the pandemic they make a decision to move in together so they can continue to explore their budding romance. No one knows they are dating.

‘We have these stories we tell ourselves—and other people—about ourselves, based on what happened to us in the past, or what we did, or decisions we made, and then they become our future just by the telling. It’s like a …’
‘Self-fulfilling prophecy? she offers.

Two detectives – DI Karl Connolly and DI Lee Riordan – are called to an exclusive apartment in Dublin to investigate a strong odour. The detectives find a decaying corpse in the shower recess and must determine whether it was an accident or foul play was involved.

Lies are spindly, unwieldy things. Delicate filaments, like bundles of nerves in the body. Easy to twist, hard to control, impossible to keep hold of.

56 Days moves back and forth in time from before the pandemic to the present to gradually reveal the stories of Oliver, Clare, DI Karl Connolly and DI Lee Riordan. The characters of Clare and Oliver are filled with the anxiety and anticipation of new love, including withholding information from one another that could throw a shadow over their budding romance. The detectives inject the good natured banter of work colleagues and humour to the story, along with a few gruesome details.

The novel is really well plotted, threaded through with a sense of dread and anticipation that something terrible could happen at any moment. Howard takes the reader to the edge of their seat repeatedly, then draws back, and story ends with an unexpected twist. I really enjoyed the audio book narrated by Alana Kerr Collins – the Irish accent adds to the telling of the story.