Monday, June 15, 2015

Case Study No. 2024: Alexander Short

Synopsis | The Grand Complication By Allen Kurzweil
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Tags: Synopsis Book The Grand Complication Allen Kurzweil Cornerstone 9780099436850
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The Grand Complication: A Novel
by Allen Kurzweil

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.



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.



Allen Kurzweil, The Grand Complication (New York: Theia, 2001). Bibliophile Henry James Jesson III hires New York Public Library reference librarian Alexander Short to identify the missing object in an eighteenth-century cabinet of curiosities. Involved in the intrigue is George Speaight, the curator of the erotica-oriented Center for Material Culture, whose nickname is "The Librarian of Sexual Congress."

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