Lydia Smith enjoys the sanctuary of her job in the Bright Ideas Bookstore, her life calm, which is all she really wants. Then one night she finds Joey, one of the many sad and lonely non-clients, hanging in the shop. The quiet young man’s suicide leaves Lydia reeling, even more so when she realises that he has hidden messages meant for her inside a handful of books. Joey’s story reaches out to her from beyond the grave, twisting into her hidden past and shoving her into the limelight.
Now people out there know who Lydia is and where she is. Not just Raj, her schoolfriend, or her father, both of whom she fled, but also the Hammerman, the killer from whom she hid many years ago.
This is a mystery wrapped up in a mystery – Joey’s suicide and an unsolved massacre, and whether the two are entwined. Of course the reader knows that there is a high chance that the suicide and massacre are connected; this is fiction, after all. However, even though the clues are sometimes a little obvious, the plot is intricate and refreshing. That said, the clues that Lydia must unravel are fun at first but gimmicky and pace-dragging in the end.
The story, written in the past tense, third person point of view, starts with that all-important hidden question, leading the reader in. The author shows just enough of our main character in the first chapter for the reader to sense that Lydia cares and so we feel for her when she finds Joey dead.
But during the following chapters, two aspects pulled me somewhat out of the story. The first is the occasional poor word-choice. The description of some of Lydia’s actions belies a woman who has just witnessed a suicide. Even her introspections lack depth and emotion. The other issue is the backstory seeping through in increasing density, slowing the pace. Some of it hides clues, other parts are unnecessary padding attempting to be a means of deepening our understanding of the main character.
Further backstory comes in using Lydia’s father’s point of view in several chapters. One unanswered question feels as if it is integral to the story. It didn’t take long to work out that it wasn’t, but it was a bit of a cheat; a clunky red herring. Although Lydia’s father is little present in her current life, these chapters serve to build a reasonable three-dimensional picture of them both. The other characters, despite a few well thought-out descriptions are flat and prop-like with only quirks to make them stand out from the stereotype. I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters, including Lydia.
There is an ugly atmosphere that pervades the story. It bounces off the milieu and characters, giving a fascinating sense of the sleazy Downtown/Capitol district of Denver and meshes beautifully with the mood even though some description and action is extraneous to the plot.
The writing style is average, with a bit too much tell and not enough show. In places I found myself screaming for better dialogue, which is often loose and mundane. The story is fun, and an easy read, but it’s one which misses many excellent opportunities for being a great story.