Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. SullivanMidnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on June 13, 2017
Source: Purchased
Genres: Mystery
Length: 8 hrs 59 mins
Format: Audiobook
Purchase at Bookshop.org or Purchase at Amazon
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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.​

I admit it – I picked up Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore based mostly on the title and cover. I have trouble passing up mysteries centered in bookstores. While it was not really what I expected, I enjoyed it. I expected a lighter mystery, more cozy. While not gory or violent, this one is disturbing at times.

Lydia is the only survivor of the night the Hammerman killed her friend and her friend’s parents, but she hides this fact from everyone. She was a child at the time, but the Hammerman was never caught. Fast forward and now she’s an adult, working at a bookstore, living with her boyfriend, who she has not told about her past.

As the story opens, Lydia discovers one of the bookfrogs, Joey, has committed suicide in the book store. That would be devastating enough, but in his pocket he has a picture of Lydia as a child, with two of her friends, which is odd because Lydia didn’t even know Joey when she was young. Turns out Joey also left her all of his belongings, mostly junk and books. The books, however, are a code that leads her into his life and back into the mystery that has haunted her. There is some minor new coverage of the suicide, which gets Lydia’s picture in the paper. Several people recognize her and now know where to find her, including a childhood friend and a detective who was obsessed with the Hammerman case.

The characters were well-done, even the ones we only meet briefly. Lydia, as the main character, is the most developed, and a lot of the story revolves around her relationships. I don’t necessarily understand her all the time and I don’t think I’d want her as a friend, but I liked her and I liked how much she cared about Joey. The characters are colorful in a way that fits the darker tone of the book. They have their obsessions and secrets. They are all dealing with the consequences of actions, taken by themselves of others.

I listened to the audio and was so-so on the narrator. She did Lydia quite well, but men’s voices and dialogue was just too slow.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore has many layers and deals with relationship, truths, secrets and how our actions can hurt others, sometimes beyond repair. I guess it’s a rather sad book. At the same time, it is definitely a mystery for and about booklovers. I wish I had chosen print over audio, though.

About Matthew Sullivan

Matthew Sullivan grew up in a family of eight children in suburban Denver, Colorado. He received his B.A. from the University of San Francisco, his M.F.A. from the University of Idaho, and has been a resident writer at Yaddo, Centrum, and the Vermont Studio Center. His writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and other awards, and has won the Florida Review Editor’s Prize and the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize. In addition to working for years at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver and at Brookline Booksmith in Boston, he has taught writing and literature at colleges in Boston, Idaho, and Poland, and currently teaches writing, literature, and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State. He is married to a librarian, Libby, and has two children and a scruffy dog named Ernie.


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