19 June 2017

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

Summary from Goodreads:
When a bookshop patron commits suicide, it’s his favorite store clerk who must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.

But when Joey McGinty, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s back room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.​

I wasn't sure what to make of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.  Is it a thriller?  A coming-of-age story?  Psychological?  With loads of psychological thrillers on the market from authors like Gillian Flynn and Ruth Ware, this didn't feel like it fit.  But it went on the Discover display at the store, so I felt like I ought to give it  a shot.

Sullivan chose an odd but compelling way to tell a thriller story that turns out to be something else entirely. Lydia is an interesting main character with a lot of secrets and backstory.  It was pretty compelling reading - if she investigates Joey's last request, will she bring the Hammerman out of hiding? What is this message hidden in his books? However, Lydia also felt very flat as a character, without much internal motivation until the end of the book. There were some good twists and turns in this novel, all leading back to the theme of family and secrets. Structurally, though, Sullivan chose to close the novel with an Epilogue.  It was a total cop out.  He should have just written a closing chapter or two rather than cram all sorts of stuff into a time jump. #banepilogues

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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