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Thanks to NetGalley and Scribner for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: Available Now

336 Pages

Synopsis: 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 youngest BookFrog, Joey Molina kills himself in the bookstore’s upper level, Lydia’s life becomes 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 pages through the 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 never completely left, as she discovers.

You can probably guess why I requested this book, can’t you. Besides the interesting premise, that cover and title just called out to me. Honestly, what bibliophile could resist this?

The story was a little slow in the beginning. It alternated between past and present narratives, and at first, I was far more interested in Lydia’s backstory, then I was in the present day mystery surrounding Joey’s suicide. But once it was apparent that both were connected, I became much more involved. The coded messages that Joey left behind in his books for Lydia to find were an enjoyable touch and I found myself trying to solve them along with Lydia. 

I liked Lydia a lot, She’s a character that you can’t help but feel sympathy for. She’s doing her best to get on with her life after the trauma of her childhood. Kind-hearted, and empathetic toward others, I immediately connected with her. I never was quite able to buy into her fractured relationship with her father completely though. There was too much left open regarding the reasons their estrangement. 

Although Joey’s death happened almost immediately, there were some scenes fleshing out his backstory. These were just enough to leave me wanting to know more about this sad, lonely young man. The secondary characters were well written and their eccentricities helped lend some humor to what would have been a dark and depressing story.

Less a thriller, and more a slow burning suspense, the mystery unfolded intriguingly and kept me guessing through the majority of the book. I thought the ending was a little weak and left some loose ends, but this wasn’t enough to spoil the overall story for me.

Despite a few flaws, I think Midnight At the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a strong debut for Matthew Sullivan and one that should appeal to bibliophiles and mystery lovers. It’s original and creative, and it’s left me looking forward to his next book.