Former Tattered Cover bookseller Matthew Sullivan’s debut novel, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (Scribner, June 13), a literary mystery centering around a bookstore and a decades-old murder, has been selected by booksellers for the June 2017 Indie Next List.
The story and the Bright Ideas Bookstore of the title are based on Sullivan’s experiences as a bookseller at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver’s historic LoDo neighborhood from 1994 to 1998. Sullivan later worked for a year and a half at Brookline Booksmith in Boston.
“My experience working in an indie bookshop really just exposed me to people who were life-changing for me,” said Sullivan, who is now a writing professor. “The other booksellers I worked with were brilliant and creative, and they wanted to be there, too. That’s one thing that I always come back to: I always had the sense that the people I was working with were making a choice, that they didn’t just end up there, that they were committed to it. Obviously, they weren’t there for the money.”
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore tells the story of Lydia, a bookseller at the Bright Ideas Bookstore in 1990s Denver who, as a young girl, was the only survivor of a murderous attack. When a now 30-year-old Lydia finds one of her favorite customers dead in the bookstore with a childhood photo of her in his pocket, she discovers the dead man left behind a series of clues that will lead her to uncover the mystery behind his death. In the process, she is forced to revisit her own past trauma.
Through plot elements in the novel, including suicide and homelessness, Sullivan illustrates how the darker side of reality can still encroach on bookstores, even as they are valued as peaceful sanctuaries. The story was inspired in part by a crime that occurred in Denver when Sullivan was 13 years old: An entire family, who lived nearby him, was murdered by a man with a hammer, save for one surviving child. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is located in Denver’s Lower Downtown neighborhood, which in the 1990s was notoriously seedy and just beginning its gentrification. In the book, the store serves as a place for the homeless, drug addicts, and others with nowhere else to go.