The Grand Complication

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9780099436850: The Grand Complication

Alexander Short is a stylish young reference librarian. With his job in jeopardy and his marriage coming apart, Alexander meets the improbably named Henry James Jesson III, a book-lover who hires the librarian for some after-hours research. His task: to complete a cabinet of curiosities chronicling the life of a mysterious eighteenth-century inventor. As the investigation heats up, Alexander realizes there are many more secrets lurking in Jesson's cloistered world than those found inside his elegant Manhattan town house-

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Review:

Penzler Pick, August 2001: Most avid readers love everything about books--not only the words, but also the paper, the edition, the age, the texture of the binding, all of which become part of the fascination for the printed word that makes a true bibliophile. So it is no wonder that the bibliophile mystery has achieved such popularity. The Grand Complication, well-written and well-researched, is the latest in a long line of such mysteries.

Alexander Short is a reference librarian who spends his days dealing with the minutiae of his work world. At night he goes home to his French wife who is also a book person. She makes pop-up books and other three-dimensional volumes, including a "girdle" that Alexander wears in the manner of medieval monks, tied around his middle and used for his "girdling" or taking notes--something Alexander does obsessively, to the detriment of his job. Two such people seem made for each other, but their obsessions make for a rocky marriage.

So Alexander is fascinated when he meets Henry James Jesson III, an elderly man with equally obsessive interests. He would like Alexander to help him after hours. In Jesson's Manhattan mansion there is a cabinet of curiosities that tell the life of an 18th-century inventor. But one of the compartments is empty. Jesson, and soon Alexander, are agog with curiosity about what was in that compartment. Finding out is half the fun of reading this book.

The other half, if you care (and somehow I think you do), is the design of the book itself. Kurzweil is the son of an engineer, and he designed the small icon, a gear, that appears on many of the book's pages. Over the course of the novel, which runs 360 pages, that gear turns 360 degrees. And then there are the endpapers.... --Otto Penzler

About the Author:

Allen Kurzweil is the author of one previous novel, A Case of Curiosities. He is currently a Fellow at Brown's University's John Nicholas Brown Center. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wife and son.

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