Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Matthew Sullivan. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.
Summary: When Joey the Bookfrog commits suicide at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Lydia Smith’s ordered life is overturned as she discovers a connection between his death and buried memories from childhood that had marked her life ever since.
Lydia Smith seems to finally have found the haven she was looking for as a bookseller at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. Surrounded by books, an interesting collection of fellow booksellers, and the “Bookfrogs,” street people who spend their days in the recesses of the store, life is pretty good. That is, until the night she finds Joey, one of the Bookfrogs with whom she had a special connection, dead by suicide in the store. In his pocket is a picture of Lydia blowing out candles at her tenth birthday with two friends, Raj and Carol. A picture she had not know existed. How could Joey have gotten it? A picture taken just before that terrible night.
Lydia had been brought up by her father, Tomas, a librarian. One night, she and Carol, the new friend who was crowding out Raj Patel, at whose parents’ gas and donut shop she used to go after school to talk with Raj, were to have a sleepover at Lydia’s. Tomas had totally forgotten about taking a bookmobile to a remote location outside Denver and his boss insisted he drive there that night, in a snowstorm. Carol’s parents, the O’Tooles, offer to host. That night, “The Hammerman” brutally murders all three O’Tooles. Lydia, hiding in a cupboard under a kitchen sink, is spared. The Hammerman is never found, though at least one detective, now retired continues to suspect Tomas, who was having an affair with Dottie O’Toole, and when he came for Lydia in the morning, had compromised the crime scene. Tomas and Lydia flee Denver for a small town, Rio Vista, changing their last name. He became a prison guard, and slowly he and Lydia grew estranged, resulting in her eventual return to Denver.
In addition to the photo, Joey has left her a collection of books, all of which have little windows cut out of them, and a sale label for a different book. When the books are matched up, page for page, they reveal messages that point Lydia to the reason Joey took his life. The messages and a picture taken of Lydia watching Joey’s body being carried out of the bookstore lead to connections back to her father, to Raj, and ultimately to the identity of the Hammerman.
This mystery is a bibliophile’s dream. Set in what sounds like a dream of a bookstore, with the main character a meticulous, quiet but caring bookseller working with a quirky cast of fellow booksellers, it is a story a bibliophile can find oneself within. As we follow the twists and turns as Lydia tries to unravel Joey’s messages, the mystery of his last days, and his connection to her, her father, and that terrible night, we feel with her the choice of both wanting to know, and not wanting to know; of wanting to know the truth of that night and what her father’s part was, or just wanting to get on with her life with him out of it.
The book is well-paced, getting each piece of the puzzle in place, and moving to the next, even while several pieces seem to remain hidden. While this is not an edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller, I found my interest and curiosity building until the final pages where all the connections become clear including what happened on that terrible night.