By Matthew J. Sullivan
Author Matthew J. Sullivan, a bona fide Denverite, has set his debut novel in the Lower Downtown district of Denver, Colorado, and the City is as much a character in his story as the patrons (fondly known as BookFrogs) of the Bright Ideas Bookstore.
LoDo has evolved from skid row to hip and happening neighbourhood in a relatively short space of time – urban reinvestment producing a sort of cultural renaissance – and protagonist, Lydia Smith, whom I suspect is (like myself) on the autistic spectrum, finds these changes somewhat unsettling. She has worked in the book shop for a number of years and has developed a soft spot for the shabby male misfits and eccentrics whose isolated lives are made endurable only by this sanctuary amongst the shelves.
One BookFrog in particular, the intriguing but emotionally damaged Joey Molina, brings out Lydia’s maternal instincts. However, his horrific suicide leads to a concatenation of unexpected developments involving defaced books, the reappearance of peeps from the past and the gradual disclosure of deeply buried secrets. It also forces her to confront memories of her intensely traumatic childhood – something she has endeavoured to suppress almost as much from herself as from her boyfriend and colleagues.
The plot rattles along like the Platte Valley Trolley with each fresh revelation leading to an ever more vexing question, and ciphers discovered between the pages of seemingly unrelated books – the twists and turns emerge thick and fast.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is not a cosy or frivolous tale, more a disquieting mystery set against the background of a changing city, which should appeal to crime fiction readers and bookish types alike. It has a few rough edges, but no more so than one would expect from a first novel. In the main it is a cracking read and would make an ideal gift for a whodunnit aficionado.