Book Review: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Title: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Book Store
Author: Matthew Sullivan
Publisher: Scribner
Published: June 2017

“When she stepped into the Western History alcove, she could feel her eyes trying to shut out what she was seeing: Joey hovering in the air, swinging like a pendulum. A long ratcheted strap was threaded over a ceiling beam and looped around his neck. Lydia’s body sprung with terror, but instead of running away she was suddenly running toward him, toward Joey, and hugging his lanky legs and trying to hoist him up. She heard someone’s scream curdle through the store and realized it was her own.”

When Lydia Smith finds one of her favorite BookFrogs, a lonely regular named Joey, hanging from the rafters in a secluded corner on the third floor of the bookstore where she works, she can’t understand why he has a picture of her as a child tucked away in his pocket. What makes it more unnerving is that Lydia spent most of her life running from a traumatic past, a past that somehow seems to be connected in some way to Joey’s death. With nothing to go on but the clues that Joey inexplicably left for her in cut-up books with mismatched labels, Lydia tries to piece together Joey’s suicidal motives, while at the same time work through some of her own unresolved issues.

Matthew Sullivan’s debut, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, completely captivated me. Just pages into this gripping mystery, I realized that the bookstore where the novel takes place is in Denver. I quickly read the author’s bio and was surprised to find that Mr. Sullivan had worked for years at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, the same store where I bought the book. Serendipitous, I know. I only wonder now why the clerk didn’t mention it when I paid for the book.

Had I been at the register, I’m sure I would have jumped up and down with excitement with every sale. Perhaps she hasn’t had a chance to read it. If she hasn’t, I hope she will happen upon my review and beam with pride that one of her own has written a book with such mastery. Sullivan writes with such eloquence and depth, I felt my heart beating with every page, sometimes heavy with sorrow and other times racing with anticipation and fear.

This book was written by a lover of books. You can tell when you read passages such as this, one where one of the BookFrogs explains to Lydia why Joey chose the bookstore as the place where he would take his own life:

“Joey loved it here,” he said. “Loved it. This place gave him something sacred. Gave his mind some quiet. This was his Thanksgiving table. His couch-cushion fort. He could get lost in here like nowhere else on earth. I’m telling you this, Lydia, because in all his life, he’d never really had that feeling before, not consistently anyway. Not to overstate it, but this store was the closest thing to a home that Joey ever had.”

Something drew me to this book and I’m hoping you will be drawn as well. It doesn’t matter where you find it, or where you read it, just that you do.

Sullivan writes with such eloquence and depth, I felt my heart beating with every page.