Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan – Review
By Sandra Callard
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a cumbersome title for a superb and eminently readable novel by Matthew Sullivan. It is an intoxicating mix of horrific murders, suicide, and the withdrawn and introspective individuals who people the Bright Ideas Book Store in Denver, Colorado.
Lydia Smith’s small life moves on predictably. She spends her life working in the Bright Ideas Bookstore and loves being a shoulder to cry on for the often insecure and lonely ‘BookFrogs’ who wait for it to open each day. Lydia’s days are long, calm and unsurprising, but her seemingly uneventful life is thrown wide open when she discovers the body of her favourite BookFrog, Joey Molina, hanging in the bookstore one morning.
He has died with a photo of herself as a child sticking out of his pocket, a photo which Lydia did not give him. Lydia starts to back-track Joey’s life and discovers his complicated and accomplished attempts to leave her messages through the books which he has left to her, along with his few possessions. Her journey through the troubled psyche of Joey is moving and disturbing, as Lydia discovers facts which bring his death, and indeed his life, much closer to home.
Lydia is a flawed and unconventional heroine, who drags herself out of her literature-based torpor to find justice for Joey. In doing so she also unearths the reasons for, and the people who contributed to, the terrible and long-buried events of her own childhood.
There are twists and turns aplenty in this novel, as the identity of the novel’s hidden sadistic killer continues to elude the reader, and the final denouement is spectacular and shocking.
Sullivan’s characters are startlingly clear and ordinary, and it is the events themselves that propel these unassuming people into a mindset of courage as the search for the truth takes over their lives. Some characters are contributory factors on the edge of the story, but each make an impact and can be seen clearly. Beautifully written by Sullivan, this is a page-turner extraordinaire. It is suspenseful in a controlled and purposeful way, as Lydia slowly lets go of her past and faces her demons whilst doing right by Joey.
This book is pleasingly unique as it does not fit easily into any genre. It has crime and murder in profusion and yet it is not a typical whodunit. It is big on retrospective soul-searching, but is not an academic look at psychology, and it has love of many sorts, but is certainly not a love story. It is an amalgam of these things for sure, but it also has an erudite beauty that flows the text along with an assured and hypnotic pull.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a debut book for Matthew Sullivan, and is a total corker. The Epilogue of the book is serene and satisfying, with just enough of a question mark to make possible further books with the same characters. I would love to hear more of Lydia, her father Tomas, the detective Moberg and the wonderful Raj, and will watch for further Sullivan output with anticipation.
‘Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore’ by Matthew Sullivan is published by Windmill Books,