Sunday, September 24, 2017

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

I usually do a bit of pre-reading work before I read most of my books.  By pre-reading work, I mean that I read a synopsis, some reviews...get the lay of the land, so to speak.  
I did not do that for this novel; instead I was captivated by the title, and decided I had to read it without having much of any idea of the plot.  

It took me about halfway through the novel to finally rid myself of the idea that somewhere in the Bright Ideas Bookstore there was a mystical, magical, fantasy storyline just waiting to pop out.  Nope.  Nothing like that at all. Add in a Gas N' Donuts place, and I thought: okay, maybe I'm wrong about the fantasy part, but I bet it's quirky. Yep. A quirky bookstore novel.  

Wrong again. It's actually a crime novel, with a bookstore as a significant setting. Here's a short summary, because I don't want to give anything away:  Lydia works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, in a part of Denver that's seeing a revitalization.  She's befriended Joey, a young man who has no one and no where to go.  He spends hours at the bookstore, reading and watching people.

One night, as Lydia is closing up the bookstore, she realizes Joey hasn't come down from the third floor.  Irritated, she goes up to the third floor, only to find Joey hanging in the history section.  Curiously, a photo of Lydia as a small child is found sticking out of his jeans pocket. Devastated by Joey's suicide, Lydia scrambles to figure out why, why?! She's been asked to clean out Joey's apartment, and while she does, she finds a box of books that are meant for her. Inside the books, Joey's cut out bit of sentences, leaving little bits of the books missing. Through some smart observation, Lydia starts putting the pieces of the book mystery together, and instead of making things clearer, it only pulls her deeper into the mystery of Joey's life, and death. And they are, somehow, linked to Lydia's past.

Lydia is an interesting character.  At age ten, she was the only survivor to a horrible murder that remains unsolved.  Her father, a librarian, moves them away from Denver, and he himself slowly changes from the loving father Lydia knows to a withdrawn, sad man who slowly closes out his daughter.  Leaving home after high school graduation, Lydia returns to Denver, and becomes a bookseller--the one place where she feels at home.  Her past remains past, as she strives to escape the "Little Lydia" nickname the newspapers gave her, all those years ago.  She doesn't talk about her past, and doesn't have anything to do with her father. 

Joey's suicide stirs things up in Lydia's life; I have to say it was a pretty good storyline that brought Joey's random, sad life and Lydia's dysfunctional adult life together.  I kept wondering just how the two would come together, and that kept me reading.  It wasn't surprising to find out who was the murderer, but it was interesting to find out why this person committed the crime. Most poignant of all was the short life of Joey.  A young man who never had a family, felt completely alone, abandoned, and lost.  A struggle for a meaningful life that ended with a final blow that he just couldn't overcome.  Joey's character is pretty powerful, even though he's dead for the majority of the novel.  

I did come around after a bit and did enjoy the novel, even though I still have a faint disappointment that it wasn't what I had hoped for.  You know how you think the cookie is chocolate chip, but instead it's oatmeal raisin?  You'll eat it anyway, and enjoy it, but darn it all, it should have been chocolate chip.  That's how I feel about this novel. Matthew Sullivan is a gifted writer, and his descriptions of Denver and the bookstore anchor you in the story.  It's a quick read, and you'll keep reading, because you want to find out what the heck is going on, and how Lydia and Joey are connected.  It all connects back to Lydia's childhood and that horrible murder.  Read it and see what you think.  

Rating:  3/6 for a well crafted crime novel that also addresses the plight of the homeless, the abandoned, and the foster care system in our country.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

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