Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore”- I love the title of this book. It immediately offers me a world that I want to step into, one of books, and possibly something whimsical or nefarious, depending on what kind of association you produce for the idea of midnight .
It turns out that in actually there is less whimsy and more horror, and yet this chilling mystery book has a kind of earnestness at the center of it all that keeps the characters real and the readers sympathetic.
When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.
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. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.
This story did not have me guessing until the very last page, but I didn’t mind that. Rather, as the carefully laid pieces of the puzzle began to come together I was pleased that nothing was far-fetched, nothing strained credulity, and the effect of the whole story coming together was one that allowed for there to be a certain amount of closure for many of the characters, something that is often left out of the more chilling thrillers.
What the blurb did get perfectly right was the blend of heart-pounding scenes (I looked at my kitchen sink differently for a whole day) and capturing the culture of an independent bookstore and the kind of people who work there, especially in an urban area during the 1990s. I both wanted to be like them, and was wonderfully apart from them. It was a delight to meet all these people who were never shaped to be perfect corporate cogs.
There is more than one mystery presented in this book, most of them revealing their secrets, and some of them, in the case of the people themselves, remain slightly unknowable. Overall I liked going on this adventure with these characters. It didn’t have the “I didn’t see that coming” twists, or the kind of dark tension that is the cornerstone of other thrillers, which tend to be my favorites, but I truly enjoyed how cohesive the story was, and how much I rooted for Lydia to be okay.
"Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore" by Matthew J. Sullivan will be available on June 13. Add it to your Goodreads TBR list now, or check back for my summer reads round up at the end of May.