In June 1994, the small town of Henley, Ohio, was devastated by a tornado, a flash flood and its first and only murder—still unsolved—all in the span of one week now known as “the long stretch of bad days.” Thirty-ish years later, aspiring journalist Lydia Chass learns that she is one history credit shy of meeting graduation requirements, due to an error by her guidance counselor, who has substance abuse issues. So Lydia’s principal makes her a deal: In exchange for keeping quiet about the counselor, Lydia will use her podcast to tell the story of that week in June and earn her missing credit.
Lydia needs access to the unsavory parts of Henley, so she recruits Bristal Jamison to be her co-host. Bristal and her family have a reputation in Henley for criminality, but despite her bad-girl persona, Bristal is determined to become the first person in her family to graduate high school. When Lydia and Bristal’s inquiry reveals that a teenage girl also went missing during the long stretch of bad days, their investigation shakes loose a killer.
A Long Stretch of Bad Days reads like a clever buddy-cop mystery, but the buddy cops are a pair of determined teen girls with something to prove. Lydia’s father is a defense attorney whose advocacy on behalf of violent criminals often draws Henley’s ire, and Lydia is sick of constantly projecting a nice, polite image to people who seem to actively hate her. Meanwhile, Bristal chafes at Henley’s assumptions about girls in her family (that they’re usually pregnant before graduation, and that they never marry their children’s fathers). Together, Lydia and Bristal form an excellent team, with Bristal bringing necessary comic relief to Lydia’s seriousness.
Author Mindy McGinnis often explores feminist themes in her fiction, and here she explores the societal expectations faced by young women in small-town America. As Lydia exposes Henley’s underbelly, she is constantly reminded not to ruffle any feathers and not to portray anyone too negatively. Henley’s hermetic hold means that most of its residents can trace their lineage back to the town’s founders. No one moves away; instead, generations upon generations live within Henley’s boundaries and hide its secrets, perpetuating a cycle of protecting one’s own at the expense of outsiders.
Despite the serious subjects at its core, A Long Stretch of Bad Days uses humor and poignant emotion to build a well-crafted murder mystery that is hard to put down and even harder to forget.