Published 2017 by Scribner Books
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore tells the story of Lydia Smith, a bookstore clerk whose life is turned upside down when her favorite patron of the bookstore kills himself in the shop’s upper room. What makes matters worse is the fact that the boy dies with a childhood photo of Lydia in his pocket. As Lydia unravels the truth of Joey’s death, aided by the clues he left hidden in their beloved books, she begins to learn dark secrets about her own past as well.
This gorgeous book was sent to me early thanks to Scribner Books and it had me hooked from the get go. A mystery set in a bookstore, full of literary references and clues hidden in the pages of books… what more could a book nerd ask for?
The mystery starts immediately; Joey’s death and the discovery of Lydia’s photo in his pocket take place in the very first chapter. I thought this was a good move–the story revealed everything it needed to, all the backstory, in due time. Starting off immediately with a big event was bold and it set the tone for the rest of the novel.
The mystery of Joey’s suicide and the mystery of Lydia’s past were both equally compelling. I never felt like one of these things outweighed the other… they ran alongside each other, parallel, for much of the book, and each of them kept me guessing. The ending, while it felt right once all was revealed, was not something I had anticipated or figured out ahead of time. It was a surprise, but the kind that seems inevitable. Sullivan did a wonderful job laying all of the groundwork so that the ending was satisfying and believable.
The bookish aspects of this novel were my favorite. The literary references scattered around often made me laugh or grin, and I adored The Bright Ideas Bookstore and the Book Frogs that find community there. As someone who frequents bookstores and knows the special feeling of being at home in one, I was really happy with the way Sullivan made his bookstore a happy and safe place for so many people. Of course this made it that much harder to accept the fact that Joey, a Book Frog himself, kills himself in what was meant to be a home of sorts.
I loved that the “clues” Joey leaves behind are hidden in books. Watching Lydia try to figure out how to interpret them, and later piece together the message, was one of my favorite parts. That being said, I think I would have liked Sullivan to do more with this. As it was, the clues left behind really serve more as a suicide note. Yes, they led to the explanation of Joey’s decision, which in turn leads to a revelation about Lydia’s own childhood, but I think I would have liked for them to be more mysterious. I wanted them to play a bigger, more active role. I think the potential was there for them to take this book even farther.
I fully enjoyed this book. The mystery was was engaging and I liked the characters. I would have liked more from the clues, and I think things could have been more suspenseful, maybe more urgent. But that being said, I’m happily passing this book around to friends and I will be excited to see what Matthew Sullivan writes next!