Anyone could argue that my opinions are biased, and perhaps they’d have a point, but they’re not going to change. If I had never heard of Matthew J. Sullivan prior to picking up his book, I would still feel the same way. I know I would.
An orthodox mystery
The genre tends to feature underdeveloped characters and predictability. From very early on, Sullivan took a deceptively simple concept and spun it on its multi-faceted axis, without ever sounding pompous, stale, or dull. In fact, his prose flew, naturally and succinctly, albeit somewhat heavy-handed on two distinct levels: metaphorically and his use of similes, which basically came down to verbosity. Regarding that point, however, I’m afraid I’m just nitpicking because, for the most part, said metaphors and similes worked. They served the purpose of informing his audience.
In between the past and present (the latter almost seeming to fluctuate between present day and those of Generation X,) Sullivan refused to the dodge several key issues, the least of which was the everyday struggles of single parenthood. Nor did he forsake the most important element of fiction, the cornerstone of creating a compelling and memorable narrative: character development. He clearly put forth a lot of effort crafting them, but more importantly, he put a lot thought behind them. These weren’t just surface details he was working with, either. With passion, precision and a certain grace, he was interested in their various and multi-cultural idiosyncrasies. And given the genre, it makes sense that he was also interested in exploring the darker side of life, where abound secrets were the foundation of everything else.
I loved reading about and becoming acclimated to these characters, some of whom I miss dearly. Lydia, for instance, and a handful of others, quickly became like good friends. She, Plath and Raj (or like-minded individuals,) are definitely people I can see myself befriending in real life.
I liked every character except for the killer. Even Maya. Despite her actions, I understand why she did them, and why she felt like she had to resort to them. And isn’t that all any of us can ask for? Eventually, I even liked Moberg, and felt a similar sense of understanding towards him, as well. I just wanted more, that’s all.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is very well-written, exploring timeless and germane issues. What’s more, it’s done without a pedantic or didactic agenda. The dialogue is equally brisk and crisp. Matthew Sullivan’s taut, unorthodox thriller delivers on many levels. Actually, it delivers on just about every one. It’s at times smart, but not too smart. It’s also clever and unique in ways that practically redefine the genre. With sufficient twists and a style all his own, Sullivan’s debut novel fires on all cylinders.
’She looked like a woman who lived in a world where unwanted babies had to be buried in the dark.’
It was an honor and a privilege to read and review this powerhouse of a novel. I’m looking forward to the next one.