Author: Matthew Sullivan
Title: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Publisher: Random House, Cornerstone
Synopsis: 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 Molina, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has inherited his meagre worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely 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.
I received Midnight at the Bright Ideas from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
When they say don’t judge a book by its cover, I think also applies to don’t judge a book by its name. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore sounded like a charming read and I thought it would be along the lines of Katarina Bivald or Jenny Colgan.
It starts off in a bookshop, with a bibliophile doing what she does best, selling books.
So far, so good.
I –foolishly – was expecting it to continue as such. A soulmate, some true love and a lot of book recommendations thrown in, perhaps.
I was not expecting a suicide within the first chapter. Consider that a trigger warning for anyone thinking of reading this book!
The book in a nutshell is messed up lives, messed up relationships and a messed up puzzle that might reveal the answers to far more than it intended.
Lydia is a haunted woman. She has spent years hiding from her past after witnessing the gruesome murder of her best friend and her friend’s parents. She is the girl under the sink, ‘Little Lydia’ – everyone has heard of her while Lydia just wants to forget.
They sat on a couch embroidered with leaves and berries that had been in the store for years and that carried the ghostly imprint of a thousand forgotten readers.
When confronted with her past in the form of a photograph from her tenth birthday, she learns the past can never be forgotten. Drawn back to the detective who took the case, Lydia must face some uncomfortable truths to figure out what happened that day.
It isn’t the only mystery, however. Why did the dead man – whom she had only recently met – have a photograph of her childhood? When a long-lost friend also arrives back in her life, Lydia soon realises this puzzle is far greater than one suicide note: her past and her present have caught up with one another with unexpected consequences.
Lydia was an okay character. I empathised with her, but didn’t detect any real development over the course of the book. She broke off a relationship with someone who loves her because she learns that he knew about her past and not told her – despite her keeping said past a secret. Her reaction felt shallow to me. Thankfully, it narrowly avoided the cliché of her getting together with the long-lost friend.
I didn’t completely engage with the secondary characters. Raj is a love-sick man trying to rekindle his feelings from childhood. Her father is eccentric and more destroyed by the past than Lydia herself. Her colleagues at the bookstore, including Lyle – a regular customer – felt as if they were there to be convenient sounding-boards for Lydia’s ideas, or to point her in the right direction, rather than developing themselves.
The pacing was fair though, and, if I’m honest, I didn’t predict how all of these events tied together. Some of it was just a little too much of a coincidence, but it made the story work and heightened the emotional outcome as more characters are affected than you think.
An interesting read with some tension and plot-twists. Not something I would go back to re-read though.