I gravitate to books about bookstores and libraries. So, when I first heard about Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan, I knew I had to read it. However, I’d mostly forgotten about it by the time it arrived and had somehow got the premise confused and was expecting a quirky love story, something along the lines of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, (a delightful book I’ve got to review).
Wrong; this is a literary thriller. I’m sure there are a thousand different ways to describe what that actually means, but for our purpose let’s just say it is a smart thriller not only concerned with keeping the pages turning and the suspense high, but also with developing a cast of characters whose motivations and lives are complex, confusing, empathetic, and mirror our own.
When Lydia finds Joey, one of the lost boys whose only solace is found in the Bright Ideas Bookstore, literally hanging in the stacks with a childhood photo of her in his pocket, she has unknowingly just begun a journey to unravel Joey’s past and what, if any, connection it could have to her own.
And Lydia has secrets; her last name isn’t really Smith. Running from a childhood trauma that put her on the cover of Time magazine, she has been hiding her true identity for over a decade. She doesn’t even share her secrets with her boyfriend, David.
And Daddy issues? What about Dad? Why does she refuse to answer his phone calls? What is he hiding from in a remote cabin in the woods.
If that isn’t starting to excite you, let me tease you with this: text puzzles. Joey has left Lydia clues that she has to decipher cut into different books in the bookstore. I was extremely pleased that our author didn’t just tell us about the puzzles, he presented several to us so we could see what Lydia sees and experience a little of the thrill of discovery she felt unraveling them.
There were a few things that bugged me. I’ll try to cover them without giving major spoilers, but if you want a reading experience unencumbered by my own quibbles, you might skip the rest of this paragraph. I couldn’t wholly accept the sibling relationship that is revealed to us. I can’t even tell you why, and the twist it provides leading to the books revelation I enjoyed tremendously. Also, the tension created during the confrontation and confession section was well-done, but it left me feeling like the book’s resolution could have been stronger, somehow.
Still, this is a solid book; a genuinely good read. If you want a smart thriller with great characters in an interesting setting with the bonus of little plot puzzles made out of books, I think you will enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed it.
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