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The Grand Complication: A Novel Hardcover – August, 2001


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The Amazon Book Review
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Check out The Amazon Book Review, our editors' fresh new blog featuring interviews with authors, book reviews, quirky essays on book trends, and regular columns by our editors. Explore now

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

From Publishers Weekly

Using his highly acclaimed debut, A Case of Curiosities, as a springboard, Kurzweil delivers a remarkable novel a flawless blend of adventure, intellect, suspense, humor and antiquity. In the last novel, the case in question an 18th-century, glass-fronted box holding a collage of 10 objects had one empty compartment. In this work, set in modern-day New York City, a wealthy and eccentric bibliophile named Henry James Jesson III hires a witty, browbeaten employee of the New York Public Library, Alexander Short, to search for the missing object. Alexander, the sexually malfunctioning husband of a French artist who designs pop-up books, accepts the commission. Utilizing his exceptional research skills, he determines that the empty compartment once contained an 18th century timepiece made for Marie Antoinette. The watch, named "The Grand Complication" for its technical superiority, was stolen from a Jerusalem museum in 1983 and has been missing ever since. As the investigation deepens and Alexander becomes privy to the cloistered world of Jesson's elegant Manhattan townhouse, Alexander realizes that the elusive timepiece is not the only object under scrutiny. The robust cast of supporting characters includes a bawdy library director whose nickname is the "Librarian of Sexual Congress"; a Marie Antoinette groupie who once tried to steal the queen's pillow from an exhibit; and a no-nonsense businessman determined to open a museum devoted to all things obsolete. All come together with great finesse in this enchanting quest one that is sure to appeal to fans of Arturo Perez-Reverte and anyone who appreciates an intellectual romp. (Aug.)Forecast: Interest in anything Kurzweil produces should remain high, even this long after the success of A Case of Curiosities, which will receive a simultaneous paperback release. A national ad campaign and five-city author tour will help to fan the flames.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (August 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786866039
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786866038
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

From www.allenkurzweil.com...

"Allen Kurzweil is an editor and inventor, but mostly he writes fiction. His novels for adults include A CASE OF CURIOSITIES and THE GRAND COMPLICATION. He has also written two popular chapter books for children: LEON AND THE SPITTING IMAGE and LEON AND THE CHAMPION CHIP. In 2003, Allen teamed up with his 9-year-son Max to explore the scientific potential of the potato chip. That collaboration resulted in publication of POTATO CHIP SCIENCE, an award-winning eco-friendly kit that comes packaged inside a potato chip bag. Honored for his writing in Europe and the United States, Allen Kurzweil currently lives in Rhode Island, where he is a fellow at the John Carter Brown Library and a board member of the Providence Athenaeum."

For more information, visit allenkurzweil.com and potatochipscience.com.

Customer Reviews

Like so many other readers, I really wanted to like this book.
KateMc
The characters are paperthin, their motivations are unexplained, the plot meanders and the ending is contrived and unbelievable.
Amazon Customer
I would recommend this book to anyone, particularly any lover of books and libraries.
Andrew D. Decker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Alexander Short is a young librarian--precise and studious, with a need to catalogue and record, and on his way to becoming stuffy. But he was not always this way. His courtship and marriage to his French wife Nic, who designs pop-up books, was romantic--and spontaneous enough to have earned him a reprimand from the head of the library for his enthusiastic acceptance of her proposal on the library's electronic bulletin board. Now the marriage is in trouble, his career seems to have hit a snag, and he's holding himself and his life together by recording and alphabetizing his life experiences in a notebook he has attached to his waist. Into his life comes Henry James Jesson III, an elderly man in search of an object missing from a hidden compartment in an 18th century furniture case he owns. Short is enlisted to help in the search, and his life is suddenly turned upside down.

The book, and the research behind it, took the author ten years, and one of the greatest compliments I can pay is to say that it doesn't show. So smoothly does Kurzweil integrate all the esoteric details of compartmented antique furniture, 18th century watchmaking, library cataloguing and conservation procedures, the intricacies of fine art theft, and even Japanese irezumi tattooing, that it all feels right and appropriate, and not at all pretentious. His themes of order vs. spontaneity, life vs. stasis, permanence vs. change mesh perfectly with the search for a missing timepiece, which is what belongs in Jesson's case--a watch called The Grand Complication, which was originally commissioned by Marie Antoinette. The book's structure mirrors the intricacies of this mysterious watch, which was stolen..
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on September 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This novel is right up my alley. It is the story of young librarian, Alexander Short, caught up in a search for a timepiece to complete a collection owned by a wealthy eccentric, Henry James Jesson III. Books, library searches, heraldry, theft, adventure and a wife who is constantly trying to seduce her husband. Who could ask for more?
And, indeed, this is a fun little book. I am particularly fond of the scenes set in the New York Public Library with its resources and its cast of interesting characters. I also find the search for the timepiece to be an interesting one with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
My only complaint about this book is the payoff. There really isn't one. I found that the book just kind of fizzled out in the last few pages. I have not read Kurzweil's first novel, A Case of Curiosities. I wish I had. I get the impression it might throw some light on this novel. Still, as it is, it's a quick novel and well worth a read.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This novel is clever, well written, interesting and mildly entertaining. It is also implausible, and I could never work up any sympathy or empathy for either of the excruciatingly eccentric main characters. The only character I had any sympathy for was the frustrated French wife. That said, even this character is implausible. What was this beautiful, lusty, and artistic woman doing with our mostly impotent and hopelessly affected protagonist? Why is her behavior on her wedding night so bizzare? What is it with Jesson's secret compartments, can't he lock a file drawer like everybody else? The whole revenge scene got pretty silly. This isn't one of those novels where the author builds up credible plot and character to get a reader over the incredible scene on which the novel may turn, in the case of this novel, it's all incredible.
I can't recommend this book to anyone and I'm not tempted to read the author's first novel. On the other hand, a short non-fiction book about this wonderful pocket watch and what might have happened to it might be worth reading, maybe something along the lines of "Longitude".
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I love this book. To me it demonstrates a mind working the language at full capacity, with loads of linguistic twists and turns, puns, riddles, and more. The setting of the book is really the mind, specifically the mind of the librarian. It is a book for people who love books in every way, who enjoy holding them almost as much as they enjoy reading them. Henry James Jesson III is one of the characters, and he is someone who revels in his own acquired knowledge. The book's protagonist,
Alexander Short, loves the fact that Jesson is an intellectual/literary show off, and he falls under Jesson's spell.
I suppose that at its heart the book is a sort of intellectual thriller, with mysteries inside mysteries.Where is Marie Antoinette's stolen timepiece, The Grand Complication? Does it really exist? Is it what is learned along the chase that is as interesting to the protagonists as finding the watch? I also love the fact that it refers back to the author's previous novel, A Case of Curiosities, without in any way being a sequel.
This is the kind of novel I love to read during those luxurious-feeling summer moments.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A reviewer for NPR damned with faint praise, but still piqued my curiosity. My mistake. The best news is, this is a very fast read. Briefly: neat premise, weak execution. Any comparison to Eco is laughably, even offensively, absurd. Character development is astonishingly weak for what seems like an attempt at physchological drama. If the male characters are under-developed, the women are utterly objectified -- sometimes quite literally. Nikki, arguably the most interesting character, is treated with shallowness throughout and finally unceremoniously discarded when the protagonist's not-so-ambiguous-as-intended sexuality ceases to be relevant. By the end, the reliance on tired self-referential technical tricks is merely irksome and I wished for a hasty conclusion. Mercifully, that's what I got. The pagination ploy of the protagonist-cum-author (or vice versa?) is the final outrage and doesn't seem so amusing under Klieg lights. Some things are been better left for the reader to discover. This was 'ok' for the beach, but it won't get space on my shelf. But give the author his due; judge for yourself.
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