Book Title: Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore
Author: Matthew J. Sullivan
REVIEWED BY: CHELSEA
Genres: Mystery, Literary Fiction
Date Read: 06/07/17
Pub Date: 06/13/17
Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.
But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?
As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left.
Have you ever been scouring Goodreads and notice a particular book continues to pop up on your feed? Maybe it starts slowly, just a glance here or there, but then turns into a full blown case of THE book everyone has just finished reading. That’s what happened to me with MIDNIGHT AT THE BRIGHT IDEAS BOOKSTORE. In an attempt to be a good girl and show some restraint of my NetGalley clicking finger, I had passed early on and immediately regretted it. Miracles do happen and I received a second chance with a hardcover that was cryptically wrapped in caution tape; I was immediately intrigued and decided that I had to read it straight away. I’m really glad I did, as this was such an intoxicating book; it was the kind that’s eerie aura stays with you long past turning the final page.
Going in, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I had heard from various sources that this was a mystery, a thriller, and many other sub genres, and while it does hold aspects of both, I felt this would be most at home in literary fiction. The story vacillated between bright, intellectual dialogue and dark, graphic plot progression. I honestly cannot think of a single book to compare it to, which is why I was so impressed and found it so wholly unique. At risk of sounding like a sadist, one of my favorite parts of the book was the manner in which the gruesome murder scene with The Hammerman was portrayed; we see and hear events through the eyes of a 10 year old child. This was a bold, risky move and it worked well in progressing the storyline while firmly grasping our attention throughout.
We do spend part of the book balancing past and present narratives, and initially I was more interested in Lydia’s childhood and backstory than in the opening mystery surrounding Joey’s suicide. This quickly changed once the two were intertwined, which also helped the last half of the book progress much more quickly than the first half. The cryptic messages that Joey left behind were a nice touch; I heartily enjoyed trying to solve the pages of broken text before reading the correct answer that followed alongside Lydia and her eccentric acquaintances. I was fully invested in the broken relationship between Lydia and her father; both characters had survived far more trauma than any one person should have to endure in their life. While each character was written in the most excellent form, I felt those two were the shining stars of our tale and I could have read a book solely on the turmoil between the two.
This story was so many things; while it was weighted with a heavy sadness, it was equal parts dry humor and wit. Where it held dark content and depressing plot twists, it also manifested hopeful themes of forgiveness and uplifting lessons of life being what you choose it to be. Finally, while it may have slowed in a few spots, it was a worthy read and one I won’t soon forget. Highly recommended to readers of literary fiction who are wanting to branch out briefly into the mystery/thriller genre while staying within their comfort zone. Sullivan’s writing was moving and convinced me he must be a father himself; I can’t imagine anyone writing such a book without the experience of loving a child to inspire it. With the inside story being as captivating as the outside cover, I think readers will be pleased and moved by how the author chooses to take many timely issues and subtly place them in the narrative for pondering beyond the immediate tale.
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my copy; it was a pleasure to provide my honest thoughts here.