Part mystery, part love letter to books, booksellers, and book lovers alike (and even includes a shout out to the gang back in receiving), Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a very clever mystery about a suicide, a triple murder, and the lone survivor who has to put all the pieces together. The novel is set, I believe, in early 1990's Denver, when the baseball stadium was being built and the lower-downtown area was just beginning its long transformation from urban blight to imposing glass edifices and impossible to park. The Bright Ideas Bookstore was a place to escape the cold and lose yourself in three stories of books, a coffee shop, and a newsstand.
I came onto the scene in 2001, and by mid-year was working for an eerily similar bookstore in Denver. We didn't stay open until midnight back then, but I do recall closing on weekends at 11:00 pm, the bars in full swing and many a colorful character wandering (sometimes staggering) in for a last look at the books or a quick trip to the restroom (perhaps to vomit). I remember having my lunch at the 16th and Wynkoop intersection late in the summer. Today, hundreds and hundreds of people and vehicles pass by in a hurry going this way and that. But back then on that day there was not another soul in sight, until...a very old man came upon me violently swing his cane. I was sure he was going to hit me with it, but he eventually calmed down and we had lunch together. It was nice. I only saw him one more time after that, still swinging the cane.
But getting back to the book. At the onset of the story, star bookseller Lydia discovers one of her regulars, Joey, hanging by his neck on the third floor of the bookstore (that's right, the third floor). Based upon my lower-downtown experience of those years past, I don't find that scenario implausible at all. The hanged man leaves a clue on his person that connects Lydia to a dark incident in her past. So begins a humble bookseller's fascinating journey through gritty downtown Denver and into the snowy mountains as she attempts to solve the riddle of a suicide and the identity of a murderer.
Longtime Denver folks will recognize the many so accurately described landmarks in the novel including the Wazee Supper Club, the 16th Street mall, a certain independent bookstore, Capitol Hill, Colfax, the dive bars, the slushy alleys. Very longtime Denver folks and booksellers may even recognize themselves. Who could guess a book about suicide and homicide could be such fun to read?