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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel Hardcover – June 13, 2017
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"With Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, Matthew Sullivan has written—with great panache and suspense—a smart, twisty crime novel filled with compelling characters set in a world that book-lovers will adore."—Jess Walter, # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins
"This book ticked all the boxes for me: an engaging heroine, an intriguing premise, interesting characters and a plot that involved books, readers and the very darkest human passions. A fantastic, assured debut."—Elly Griffiths, author of The Crossing Places
“There is a clever, erudite puzzle plot in this bookish mystery, along with whip-smart writing. Matthew Sullivan’s debut is stylish and entertaining.”—Ellen Crosby, author of The Champagne Conspiracy
"An intriguingly dark, twisty story and eccentric characters make this book a standout."--Kirkus Reviews
“Quirky characters and a keen sense of place distinguish this multi-generational tale of abandonment, desperation, and betrayal . . . inventive and intricately plotted.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This quirky debut novel will have particular appeal for puzzle solvers and booklovers.” —Booklist
“Though darker than other beloved novels set in bookstores, this story will appeal to fans of Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and Katarina Bivald’s The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. Mystery readers will also appreciate the clever connections between the characters and the crimes.” —Library Journal
“Personally, I couldn’t resist Matthew Sullivan’s Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, an appealing first novel....The oddball characters and layered plot make this puzzle mystery both charming and challenging.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
“A strong debut. . . powerful, intricate tale of broken friendship and family loyalties.” —The Seattle Times
“Twisty and dark, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a remarkable debut that will leave readers unsettled and probably yearning to pay a visit to their local bookstore.” —BookPage
About the Author
Matthew Sullivan received his MFA from the University of Idaho and has been a resident writer at Yaddo, Centrum, and the Vermont Studio Center. His short stories have been awarded the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize and the Florida Review Editor’s Prize for Fiction and have been published in many journals, including The Chattahoochee Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Fugue, Evansville Review, and 580-Split. In addition to working for years at Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver and at Brookline Booksmith in Boston, he currently teaches writing, literature, and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State. The author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, he is married to a librarian and has two children.
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The plot unfolds well enough at first. As we get further in, however, things get more problematic. The solution to the messages is a clever idea but comes back with a repetition that gets boring. The character development becomes more a function of the plot that realistic characters. Lydia’s father is a predictable red herring and the return of her childhood friend makes almost no sense apart from plot requirements. I also found the epilogue here to be perhaps the worst, most irritating one I have ever read, trying to end things in a storybook fashion that is very unconvincing.
Still, this is an easy read with certain pleasures. The reveal of what actually happens on the night of the murders in Lydia’s childhood is interesting and clarifies the suicide, even if it takes heavy plot lifting to get there. If Mr. Sullivan could have managed his characters more realistically, he could have had something really nice here. As it is, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
One particular pet peeve was the description of characters', particularly Lydia's, physical "deep" responses to supposedly powerful or revelatory information - something like, "She felt like the air had been sucked out of her": or "Suddenly, the world's light had disappeared and she was left in darkness" (these are not actual quotes). Aside from the fact that there were so many of these hyperbolic reactions, what bugged me was that they came at times that were supposed to be when Big Things were discovered, but I wasn't feeling it. The writer was trying to move me by telling me that I was supposed to be moved. To me that seems like a failure on the part of the events themselves and/or the characterization of the character.
Still, I read on, and it was okay. Wish it had stayed as good as at the beginning.
Bright Ideas really isn’t about books or a book store, to be perfectly honest, and I am not entirely sure that it should even be the name of the book. Yes, the main plot point takes place at Bright Ideas and clues are left in books, but the books and the book store are so secondary to the story that it really doesn’t matter.
Now, it may sound like I did not enjoy this book, and that is simply not true. It was an enjoyable read, and I was definitely hooked into the mystery. It is a quick read, and the plot interesting, but I pretty much had a good portion of the story worked long before “the reveal”.
In the end, it was just not enough “book-about-books” for me and I was disappointed.