56 Days Ago: Ciara and Oliver meet in Dublin while shopping and a connection forms between them.
35 Days Ago: As the country goes into lockdown, Oliver suggests that they move in together. Ciara sees it as a chance to give the relationship a chance. Oliver sees it as a chance to hide his secrets – not just from from Ciara but from everyone else.
Today: Detectives arrive at Oliver’s flat to discover a decomposing body.
What happened to go from a budding relationship to this? And can the police piece things together to find the truth?
Catherine Ryan Howard is one of my favourite modern writers, and not just because she sends me advance copies of her books. This is her fifth book, and her writing always stands out due to her willingness to experiment with the structure of the narrative. Take Rewind, for example, told in part through security footage with varying time stamps, or The Nothing Man, with the interspersing of a true-crime novel along with the uncaught killer detailed therein reading that book. Here, the timing of events is the hook, as we oscillate between events progressing in the past with the investigation in the present.
Admittedly, that isn’t a completely original hook – the recent book The Castaways, amongst others, did a similar thing – but it’s not quite as straightforward as that. There’s a spin on this that effectively adds in a third narrative that I won’t spoil, which I thought was clever, and there are other jumps forwards and backwards to come later in the story.
It’s an effective structure that helps flesh out the characters and their motivations, giving the story a significant weight and helping the reader really invest in the characters, while pacing very nicely the twists and turns of the plot.
Some readers may find themselves put off by the setting, namely during the Covid-19 lockdown, but I think this is well-handled and used effectively. It’s actually nice to know that other people had the same concerns as me, regarding shopping and which rules to obey and which could be slightly bent. This setting never becomes more than background, but it works exceptionally well.
The one downside, I would say, is the old chestnut that I’ve read too many mystery novels, as with one exception – the true nature of one relationship – I wouldn’t say that I was ever particularly surprised by the revelations. It just meant that I wanted to keep reading to see if I was right, but perhaps – just perhaps – I need to stop over-analysing things as I read them and just sit back and let the surprises hit me.
So, all in all, a gripping atmospheric read with characters that you can empathise with. Catherine proves yet again what an innovative writer she is and I look forward to her next book.
56 Days is released by Corvus on Thursday 19th August. Many thanks to Catherine and her publisher for the review copy.