If you like mysteries … with obscure puzzles … and stories set in bookstores … and damaged protagonists … and a cast of kooky characters, then you will positively love MIDNIGHT AT THE BRIGHT IDEAS BOOKSTORE. If, however, a lot of this feels like familiar territory, you’re not alone. But not to worry: you’ll still find Midnight an absorbing read.
Lydia Smith works in Denver’s Bright Ideas Bookstore where, between shelving her beloved books and cashing out sales, she tends to her flock of misfits, forlorn wanderers who use the bookstore as a home of sorts.
When Joey, the youngest of her “Bookfrogs,” hangs himself one night, Lydia is deeply shaken—not only because he was her favorite, but also because she’s the one to find him. Also disturbing, Joey is carrying a childhood photo of Lydia in his pocket. What is it doing there … and how did he get it?
We backtrack to an earlier, darker period in Lydia’s life—as a 10-year-old-growing up in Denver with her widowed father. Shy and bookish, Lydia has two good friends: Raj Patel, whose parents own the local Donuts ‘n Gas (!), and Carol O’Toole, who tags along with her plumber father while he repairs a leaky pipe for the Patels. The three \youngsters become great pals.
But one night Lydia’s world is split apart when Carol and her family are brutally murdered by the Hammerman. Traumatized, Lydia is whisked away from Denver by her father … and it is years before she returns. The Hammerman was never caught, and Lydia has never been able to make peace with that terrible night.
Then, it’s back to the present. Lydia learns to her surprise that Joey has left all of his belongings to her, primarily boxes of books. On thumbing through them, Lydia discovers that pages and pages have been carefully, methodically defaced—with small rectangular cut-outs. What does it all mean? One meaning seems obvious: Joey wants Lydia to decode a message he’s painstakingly composed. What is the message … and how is Lydia involved?
That’s the set-up. Debut novelist Matthew Sullivan nicely juggles the various narrative threads, keeping the pace taut and suspenseful. If at times Lydia seems somewhat dense to the significance of things … well, so be it: she’s not the most engaging of heroines.
Nonetheless, the novel is good fun, a game of code-breaking, as we try to read and understand Joey’s cryptic messages. Even when the words become clear, their meaning does not. That is the ultimate mystery to be solved.
A former college English instructor, Molly developed LitLovers after teaching an online literature course several years ago. It was so much fun—even the students loved it—that she decided to take it public. If Molly’s not working on LitLovers, she’s sleeping.