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The Grand Complication

3.22  ·  Rating details ·  737 ratings  ·  100 reviews
A delicious compendium of quirky colleagues, erotic pop-ups, deviant passions, and miraculous examples of theft, the book is a grand and complicated "timepiece," told with a devilish sense of fun.

Narrated by Alexander Short, a stylish young reference librarian of arcane interests, The Grand Complication propels the reader through a card catalog of desperation and delight,
Paperback, 368 pages
Published August 21st 2002 by Theia (first published August 1st 2001)
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Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012, own-it
The Grand Complication follows a New York public librarian, Alexander, on his adventure to solve a case of a missing watch for a patron, the mysterious Mr. Jesson. It's no ordinary watch though, but the real life legendary Marie Antoinette watch that really was stolen out a museum in Jerusalem in 1983. This all sounded delightful to me and I was happy my husband bought it for me for Christmas, but it turns out that the premise is the best thing about this book. It honestly took the author about ...more
Nov 07, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librarians
I'm a sucker of fiction in which a main character is a librarian -- that's how I ended up with this book.

The story sounded promising: a librarian who does research independently as a side job takes on the task of figuring out the meaning behind a collection of items that belonged to an 18th Century inventor for a wealthy (how convenient), eccentric client who is a bit of a mystery himself. There's also a kind of anti-love story goin on, and while parts of it are interesting, basically what's ha
Marne Wilson
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Marne by: Majenta
If I told you how little time I've spent thinking about the ins-and-outs of librarianship since I left the profession seven years ago, you'd probably be amazed. Large research libraries are like their own little worlds, all-absorbing when you are inside of them and yet easily forgotten the moment you leave the gates. Well, this book brought it all back to me. Although some references seemed a little dated, even for 2001 when this book was published, it was obvious that Kurzweil has spent a lot o ...more
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 que ...more
Dec 14, 2007 rated it it was ok
to be honest, i don't remember much from this book... except that it's about librarians... and has this really great scene where library workers are playing this annual game, maybe it's a holiday game?, in the basement of i think it's the NYPL humanities research library... and the game is who can come up with the most accurate dewey number for a book. i so geeked out over that one...
May 06, 2008 rated it liked it
Yet another mystery book that took me about 5 weeks to read, I don't know what is wrong with me. By the end I enjoyed it so for the rating (I don't know why every book needs a personal rating) I'm really on the fence between a three and a four.
I picked a three because of the amount of time it took me to get into it. It about a librarian that gets commisioned by a rich individual to solve an artifact mystery. Because I'm a librarian some of the attempted dewey humor came off as lame or grating at
Arielle Masters
Will say up front that I didn't realize this was a followon to a previous novel. I have not read anything else by this author AFAIK.

This book had interesting ideas and a premise that drew me in - fantastic carpentry with hidden compartments! An amazingly engineered watch! Lots of old books! - but I found it to be ludicrous and pretentious in its execution. It started out well - I love books and libraries - but quickly turned into a farce. A contemporary urban fantasy for men with obsessive-compu
Mar 31, 2009 rated it it was ok
The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil was a mixed bag. Alexander Short is a librarian working at a large public library in New York City. One day, while working at the reference desk, he is approached by a man who wants “to steal a moment of his time” and requests a book about secret compartments in old furniture, a topic Alexander is furiously interested in. The two, Short and the patron, Henry Jesson, embark on a quest to find a lost watch to complete Jesson’s collection. The journey is int ...more
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately, as good as A Case of Curiosities was, it only heightened the dissappointment of The Grand Complicatioon. Trying very hard to be Richard Powers or Paul Auster was not the way to go here. The tone of the first book is completely missing. I love historical novels, and the sense of time and place in A Case of Curiosities was captivating, but totally lacking here. Too much twee nonsense about library nerds, boolean search strings and art heists. None of the characters seemed the least ...more
Jul 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Probably a 2.5. I wanted to know what happened, but I really disliked the narrator/protagonist.
Ron Charles
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If the publishing industry is any guide (and, of course, it's not), expect to see a new line of librarian action figures under the tree this Christmas. Kids will clamor for Marian(TM), armed with her stubby, eraserless pencil. She vanquishes foes with a single "Shhhh."

For the second time this year, the dusty souls who read newspaper book sections are being rewarded with a high-adventure novel about an intrepid librarian. (You heard it here first: Tom Cruise will star in a new thriller called "Mi
Jeanmarie Jones
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you don't know anything about the dewey decimal system or a card catalog in a library (the younger generation), you won't enjoy this book, simple as that. However, if you know what those terms refer to AND you love books about libraries, librarians AND mysteries - you will enjoy this book! Its got twists and turns; some chapters are but a few pages but hold much intrigue. I won't go into details, others have already done that. I admit, it took me a while to get "into" this book, the beginning ...more
Cynthia Egbert
Jul 21, 2015 rated it liked it
That was a fun ride! This book had a lot to offer that appealed to someone like me. The main character is librarian and he goes on a romp through history using the library and other avenues. What's not to like? If you are looking for a mystery that has some of the same feeling as Tey's Daughter of Time, you might like this one. Here are a few quotes that struck me.

"Festinalente = Make haste slowly. A private challenge to the fast-paced mediocrity society teaches us to worship." (I know that this
Jul 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookcrossing, u-s-a
As a suspenseful mystery thriller, this novel could very well become an entertaining film, especially with the final scenes in the book.

I enjoyed the 'insider' humor on conducting research, and working in libraries. Someone less familiar might need to look up certain terms and practices regarding the organization and operation of libraries. That should not deter readers from this book; it's not that complicated...

Actually, I believe the author's intention (or one of them) is to motivate us to
Jul 02, 2008 rated it liked it
This book seemed to be mainly a vehicle for library in-jokes (which was actually fine with me, but might not appeal to a broader reader base). There are constant mentions of things like OCLC, retrospective conversion and one person is described as being less sharing than the Stanford University interlibrary loan policy (hint: they don't loan anything, but that's never explained). The characters are weak and, for the most part, unlikable. I don't always think I need to like a character to enjoy a ...more
Jul 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010
It’s weird when someone gives me a book they think I might like. First of all, how obligated am I to read it right away- or at all? I mean, I have my own reading list to go through. There’s also the issue of what if I don’t end up liking it?

The book in question was “The Grand Complication” by Allen Kurzweil. Someone recommended it to me because the main character was a librarian and had all these inside jokes about libraries and working in one. Luckily, I enjoyed reading it because of those thin
Oct 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: book people, mystery or puzzle lovers, antiquarians
Shelves: books-2008, re-read
I loved the idea behind this novel and getting to know the library the main character works in. It's characters are fascinating and being a part of their lives for awhile was my favourite part of this book. Unfortunately, I found the writing style a little dry, so it was difficult to really get into the parts that didn't directly connect with the library itself. Perhaps it deserves a second look from me, as there were many parts about this book that I loved and would recommend it for readers, l ...more
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who likes fact-based mysteries
Shelves: mystery
I very much enjoyed this book ... and even more so after the fact after doing a little research and discovered that the Marie Antoinette is not a figment of the author's imagination but, in fact, very real, and that its theft was as described in the book.

(FACT UPDATE: I was delighted to learn that, 25 years after the occurrence of the theft described in the novel and several years after the book was written, the mystery was finally solved. All but a very few of the items stolen have been recover
C.O. Bonham
Mar 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Your Local library may have this book shelved as a Mystery. Well it's not really a mystery at least not a traditional mystery yes something has been stolen and the main character is looking for it but that is really a side plot to the greater mystery of human relationships. Alexander short has to uncover the secret to gettign along with people. His wife his coworkers his mysterious benefactor. Everyone really. Normally I would avoid a book like this but it was so well written that I did realize ...more
Oct 14, 2007 rated it liked it
It isn't every day that you find a mystery-suspense novel about librarians, and these sort of books don't usually make for good airport reading. But this one did keep my attention riveted, was easy to jump into amidst the chaos of my reading environment, and had numerous section breaks inside short chapters so that I didn't mind multiple interruptions. I appreciated that the small gear which separated the sections turned by exactly 360 degrees throughout the book and that the pages numbered 360 ...more
Eileen Daly-Boas
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
no spoilers.

I was hoping this would live up to the descriptions I read about this book, but it's not all that intriguing, it's not all that sexy, and it isn't all that smart. Perhaps being a librarian skewed things for me, but the main character seemed like a wuss that I wouldn't want to work with. And while there are some really interesting descriptions of rooms and objects, that wasn't enough to keep me going.
It's not a "bad" book, though. I can imagine someone finding the inventiveness and
Jim Leckband
Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it
It's nice to read a complicated historical/science novel that doesn't have to save the world/universe. Just a librarian trying to track down a famous watch for a creepy client. It could have easily gone down the Dan Brown path, but it was more interested in the journey. Of interest are digressions into historical watches; pop-up books; the Dewey Decimal System and its relation to life, universe and everything; tattoos; curiosity cabinets; automatons; and the lifestyles of the rich and introverte ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very odd book in that it is a book about book writing, yet it is also a mystery, a "complication" (hence the book title). The protagonist, a research librarian, is hired by a man of means, who wants to fulfill a dream of finding a watch that was commissioned by Marie Antoinette. The watch is subsequently stolen from a museum and the "man" hires the research librarian to find (by means of library research and other activity) based on information that the man possesses. It is an intrigui ...more
Feb 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Grand Complication is the story of a search for a stolen Brueger watch alternately known as the Marie Antoinette. Yet it is is the relationship between Nic and Alexander, between Alexander and Mr. Jesson, and the interweaving of it all. The book has 360 pages which seems to relate to 360 degrees of a clock face. It is an intricately molded story that grasps the reader by the lapels and insists that s/he come along.
Nov 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
A literary thriller, this story is about a reference librarian who gets recruited by an eccentric old man to do research about a case he possesses. It's a fun little book that reads quickly. For me, the most interesting part was the research, particularly electronically. Since the book was published in 2001, it shows its age in this area especially, but serves as a good reminder how far things have come in a relatively short period of time.
Dec 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, history
This is set in NYC, the hero being a librarian and eccentric. He is hired by an even more eccentric patron to research a watch originally dedicated to Marie Antoinette and stolen 20 years ago from the museum that housed it. The search goes along well-enough but then Our Hero discovers he is actually retracing his employer's steps, and then he gets angry. Bizarre, somewhat pleasant, good characterizations of life as a library employee.
Jul 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
I know many people in the literary world, but this book is the first novel I've read written by a friend. Allen's personality and idiosyncrasies ring throughout, e.g., la femme francaise. I loved how Allen portrays the culture of the library: Dewey decimal system smackdowns, pneumatic tubes transporting lost manuscripts, library trolls living in forgotten rooms, obsessive compulsive observations, uber rationalizations, etc. Every librarian and archivist needs to read this book!
Mike Marien
Jan 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a book that most of the world will not find engaging. Perhaps because it employs the use of Library Science in addition to 19th century history. I quite enjoyed it as a secondary read-having a first edition from when it came out. I would suggest that if you think The Book of Theseus is a good read, that you try this. It may inform you about life before/as it became a bit more distracting.
This came very highly reviewed from a book blog I read, and I thought it was pretty good, not great. The jacket promised a 'totally unexpected twist' on page 360, which I thought was very lame indeed (as was much of the ending), but the remainder of the book was fun to read and pretty quick to read at that.
Mindy Worley
The plot line was interesting, though nothing earth shattering. What I think I really liked about this book was the main character. He was a librarian, and there were a lot of references to things that I had no idea existed. Which is fun. This review is sounding very lame, but whatev. Its a good read, go pick it up....
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The son of Viennese émigrés, novelist Allen Kurzweil was raised in Europe and the United States. Educated at Yale and the University of Rome, he worked for ten years as a freelance journalist in France, Italy, and Australia before settling in the United States and turning his attention to fiction.

Devotion to the complicated passions of his characters has led Allen to take courses in pop-up book de

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