“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore”, by Matthew Sullivan

Lydia works at a large, independent bookstore in Denver. She’s extremely compassionate, especially toward the “sad men” who populate the bookstore (if you’ve spent any time at all in an urban Barnes and Noble, you’ll be familiar with this type of customer). One night, one of these “sad men”, Joey, kills himself in the bookstore and leaves behind clues that surprisingly tie him to Lydia’s troubled past.

Joey is a brilliant but severely damaged young man – an addict, former prisoner and product of the foster care system. He leaves his meager belongings to Lydia. This includes several books containing encoded messages. As Lydia deciphers these codes and delves into other aspects of Joey’s life, it becomes clear that Joey wasn’t just a random customer that she met at her store. The two have some compelling connections, including a violent, decades-old triple murder.

This is Matthew Sullivan’s first book and it’s a good one. He creates interesting puzzles and characters. Through detailed, well-written flashbacks, we learn about Lydia’s past and come to understand her adult behaviors and attitudes. Joey is an elusive but sympathetic character whose life and death are heartbreaking. The connections between Lydia and Joey are well woven and the author creates just enough plot twists to keep it interesting without going overboard.

This novel is also a quick, easy read so if you have some extra time during the holidays to squeeze in a short book, check out “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.”

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