The Grand Complication

by Allen Kurzweil

Hardcover, 2001




New York : Theia, 2001.


Critically acclaimed for his international bestseller, "A Case of Curiosities," Kurzweil presents "The Grand Complication"--a modern-day tale of literary intrigue, deviant passions, and delicious secrets.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Mrs_McGreevy
The basic plot seems simple enough: a rich older gentleman hires a research librarian to help him track down an object that once resided in a compartmentalized case (in fact, the case is the eponymous Case of Curiosities from Kurzweil’s first novel). The search, its results, and its aftermath form the framework of the book. But hidden within this seemingly bland framework is a story as wonderfully complex as an Escher print: characters are not who they seem to be; motivations are called into question; and vital bits of information dance just out of our reach.

Kurzweil is a powerfully evocative writer. His scenes in the research library make you feel like you can reach out and touch the books (and oh! such books: Secret Compartments in Eighteenth-Century Furniture, The Universal Penman, Hints on Husband Catching, or A Manual for Marriageable Misses—and that’s just from the first 30 pages). Jesson’s home is described in all of its opulent splendor, with special attention given to yards of books and the shelving thereof (are you sensing a pattern?). Thankfully, even non-book-oriented places are described well.
When an author is this attentive to setting, character can sometimes be lost. But Kurzweil sidesteps this trap neatly, giving us a cast of exuberantly eccentric characters who nonetheless manage to ring true. Everyone from the petty research library bureaucrats to the narrator’s tempestuous girlfriend is limned with just enough detail to make their various eccentricities believable.

The Grand Complication is a Chinese treasure-box of a novel—just when you’re certain you know what’s going on, you find another hidden compartment with new information in it. The writing is beautiful, the plot is compelling, and the characters are a joy to spend time with. Stop listening to me natter on about it and pick it up for yourself. I think you’ll enjoy the read.
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LibraryThing member ct.bergeron
I rarely finish a book that I don't like, but I kept expecting something with this one, I couldn't actually believe it was this dull.
I didn't like the character. The librarian was the representation of the stereotype of librarian, obsessive,dull and stuck up ( I work in a library and very few of the librarian actually fits that description). The patron who hired him was far from being an excentric, but was clearly disturbed.
Overall.... not a book I would suggest to anyone.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
This fun novel is about a librarian at NYPL who becomes estranged from his artistic French wife and ends up working with an eccentric old man to solve the mystery of an 18th century display case full of oddities. The mystery plot is kind of a dud but the characters are great and I especially enjoy the library parts, including the fictionalized Mark Blumberg who can tell you call numbers for books off the top of his head.… (more)
LibraryThing member tedmahsun
Quite intriguing. Slow in parts but was very interesting in the way the story folded out. I was amazed at how Kurzweil managed to make computer searches not as dull as they are in real life. It reminds me of the Da Vinci code in quite a few ways - a refined gentleman as mentor and later betrayer, a French love interest, a search for a long missing artifact. On the whole enjoyable, but not likely memorable. The language used was beautifully archaic though.… (more)
LibraryThing member knittingfreak
As a librarian, I have wanted to read this book for a very long time. I love reading about books, libraries, librarians and people who love books. Alexander Short is a reference librarian with some unusual hobbies. He is interested in enclosures (a.k.a. secret compartments), coded writing, "girdling" and typography. Without a doubt, the girdling was the most unusual of Zander's hobbies. He carried a small notebook attached to his clothing in which he recorded his observations. If that is not unusual enough for you, he arranged the entries under Dewey Decimal subject headings AND wrote the entries in a secret code.

A strange man approaches Zander at the reference desk of the library and asks for his help in locating a missing object that would complete a collection for him. He is soon drawn into a world in which nothing is as it appears.

I loved this smart, well-written book. I found all the library references, including numerous Dewey Decimal classifications, interesting. However, those less enamored with libraries may find it a bit annoying.
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LibraryThing member GMac
Confronted by both professional and personal crises, reference librarian Alexander Short gains a new lease on life when he meets Henry James Jesson III, who hires him for some research into an enigmatic eighteenth-century inventor.
LibraryThing member JBD1
Kurzweil's best so far. A fascinatingly complex but readable tale, centered around a neurotic reference librarian and his adventures with a mysterious patron. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member localpeanut
If you love inventory, secret penmanship, erotic pop-ups, Marie Antoinette memorabilia and shrimps . . . then this is the book for you.

Alllen Kurzweil has written an intriguing page-turner of a tome. Our hero, Alexander Short, reminds me of Indiana Jones if he was the kind of guy who hunted for relics by using library slips and zip tubes (these tubes move books from the library stacks to the front desk). He is lured into a search for The Grand Complication-by a roguishly eccentric collector, Henry James Jesson III.

Short, being a reference librarian with a compulsive disorder to make lists of everything in a journal knotted to his clothes, is the perfect pawn to Jesson's puppetmaster. He resolutely pursues the Grand Complication, from its disappearance in a cabinet of curiosities to a theft in Jerusalem . . . jeopardizing his job and his marriage.

The third note-worthy protagonist in this book is the library itself and its bizarre characters and routines: George Speaight, the Librarian of Sexual Congress (actually the curator of a collection initially funded by a pornographer), Emil Dinthofer who keeps threatening to send Short to a bookmobile in Amish country; Finster Dapples, the Genealogy specialist who teaches us a lot about how to create a coat of arms, Irving Grote, the head of Conservation who goes head-to-head against Mr. Paradis, the autodidactic janitor in a library competition that tests their knowledge of the Dewey Decimal system . . . and there's even the Sabretooths, a football team who become the recipients of a most unusual book tour.

There's an enthralling energy to this novel that you don't expect when you consider that most of the action happens among books and paper products. Kurzweil also has a magical grasp of the macguffin and he neatly pulls off the difficult trick of entertaining as he educates us in the intricacies of full body tattoos, timepieces, heraldic self-invention, and the use of a ham sandwich as a criminal diversion.
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LibraryThing member deargreenplace
From the moment I read the words "stylish young reference librarian", I knew that I had to buy this book, and it didn't disappoint me. Alexander is the reference librarian in question, and this story of what happens when a mysterious library patron asks him for assistance in solving a puzzle had me rapt. Alexander's relationship with his partner Nic, whom he also met in the library, is also well-observed, and the description of the Dewey Decimal quiz near the end of the book was one of my own personal high points.

I can't recommend this book highly enough - please read it!
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LibraryThing member bibliolevin
This book has nothing to recommend about it. It is not worth reading. The characters are not nice. The story is dull. The descriptions of the library from the perspective of the librarians do not seem all that realistic or insightful.
LibraryThing member zina
notable primarily because it's set in a library and the main characters are librarians - secondarily, it's a good story
LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
An incredibly quirky story; the hero of the book works in a library and is fascinated by sources and facts. This connection with the library and his own curiosity gets him involved with an eccentric who has more on his mind than just knowledge. Fun, strange, good.
LibraryThing member david7466
Like many other readers I have to say that this story is not exactly one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It's a bit like watching a weekly drama on TV, little things happen that progress the story, but overall it's like watching life in slow motion. I enjoyed the book, I liked the characters and settting of library and research work, and would like to see a series using the main character.… (more)
LibraryThing member EJStevens
The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil is a pure work of art. The mystery which revolves around the search for a lost historical timepiece contains all of the elements of an intriguing mystery. The eccentric characters are an added pleasure while the construction of the text itself into a novel of 360 pages reflecting the importance of the timepiece is truly inspired.… (more)
LibraryThing member nordie
"Alexander Short is a stylish reference Librarian of Arcane inerets. With his job in jeopardy and his marriage coming apart, ALexander meets the improbably named Henry James Jesson III, a bibliophile who hires the librarian for some after hours research.

As his investigations heat up, Alexander realises there are more secrets lurking in Jesson's cloistered world than those found in his elegant Manhattan town house."

An interesting example of those with an interest in the more detailed parts of librianship (e.g. competing in games around the Dewey Decimal system), whilst investigating the theft and existance of some more obscure examples of watches. Finale gives the impression there could be a follow up, but nothing on Amazon yet.....
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LibraryThing member jguenther
I liked this book a lot. It slowly reveals what is really happening and shares some of the mystery and intricacy of the subject: antique multi-function chronometers. I had a hard time putting it down. A fun read.
LibraryThing member ragwaine
Another one bites the dust, I think this is 3 in a row now. At least I'm clearing off some of my bookshelves. I told my wife that I feel like we're watching/reading the Gong Show lately. After about 50 pages the cane starts to come out, the book desperately tries to get better, but ultimately fails. This one got to about 85 pages.

It was witty and I can see how library geeks could be more interested in this, but it didn't really seem to be going anywhere. Seeing as I read Kurzweil's other book (and loved it) a LONG time ago, I didn't even get any cool links between the two books (and it was starting to become obvious that there were some).
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LibraryThing member sturlington
A librarian gets mixed up with an elderly eccentric in his obsessive search for a stolen watch.

This is a mystery written for people who like to read about people doing research, or who enjoy books filled with literary allusions and jokes. I was mildly enjoying it, but it pretty much falls apart in the third act. If you like books about books, or if you worship libraries and librarians, you may like this book. But I imagine its appeal is fairly narrow.… (more)
LibraryThing member Eliz12
This book begins with a compelling idea, and there are quite a few interesting twists and turns, but I didn't enjoy reading it. The main characters are all flat, and the unraveling of the mystery at the end is trite. Disappointing.



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