She could see the cemetery of books that had flapped to the floor as Joey had climbed the shelves, and the others he’d shoved aside to create footholds as he threaded the strap through the ceiling, and still others that had dropped as he’d tried to kick his feet back to stop himself from dying.
Lydia Smith, book lover and clerk extraordinaire at the Bright Ideas bookstore, is horrified when she finds the body of one of her favorite patrons, Joey, hanging from a ceiling beam on the store’s top floor. Horror turns to terror when she finds a photo of her in his pocket—a photo taken two decades earlier at her 10th birthday party, just weeks before little Lydia escaped the clutches of a manic killer and fled with her father to a new town. A photo Joey shouldn’t have. When Joey’s landlady shows up at the store and informs Lydia that he has left all of his worldly possessions to her, Lydia has no idea what to expect. Among the few things in his tiny apartment are several books containing hidden messages, written specifically for her. What is Joey trying to tell her that he couldn’t when he was alive? And how does it connect with the events of that deadly night so long ago?
- At first, the mystery propels the plot forward for the reader. Why did Joey kill himself? How did he have Lydia’s photo? Who is the Hammerman? But somewhere along the way, the characters, the people who are living this story, take over. Their choices are sometimes inscrutable but their heartache, their fear, their brief moments of happiness are relatable and, at times, familiar. Joey’s death sets off a chain of events no one could have predicted. Even after the culprit becomes evident, the reader is pulled on, needing to know how these characters will survive the devastating fallout of it all.
It’s possible some readers will guess the who and why long before the novel’s characters do; if so, it doesn’t matter, keep reading. You’ve only scratched the surface of the deeply heartbreaking story behind what really happened that night Lydia inexplicably became the sole survivor of the Hammerman’s wrath and the effect that one act had on the futures of so many people. Some scenes, such as the murder taking place in the past, aren’t overly graphic but are still harrowing (the sound of an egg dropping will never again seem so innocent). Pacing is a bit off at times and occasionally character interactions fall flat, but Sullivan’s meticulously plotted story makes up for any lags. The juxtaposition of the past and present plot lines is handled marvelously, with both finally converging into one impactful ending.
This isn’t a light read; it’s a fast read and a page-turning read, sure, but it is not one which can be simply moved on from after the last word has been read. Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a solid debut novel, one that, while a bit dark, is highly recommended.