Teens who loved Leon and the Spitting Image may also enjoy this adult novel by the same author. Like Kurzweil’s juvenile fiction, this book combines a wealth of informative trivia with quirky characters, offbeat humor, and a murder-free mystery whose ultimate lack of a solution is balanced by the satisfaction of seeing the main character grow and develop.
That character, our narrator, is a New York reference librarian named Alexander Short. He is a man of unusual interests. He worships the Dewey Decimal cataloguing system and studies forms of penmanship for fun. He constantly jots down lists in a notebook that he keeps literally tied to his shirt, and he goes gaga over forms of enclosure (such as secret compartments in furniture).
One day a stylish, elderly library patron approaches Xander’s desk and hands him a beautifully penned request for a book on secret compartments. His interest piqued, Xander agrees to help this stranger with a special case. Mr. Henry James Jesson III, who seems to live in another century, shows our hero a house full of rare books, maps, and artifacts. Prized above all else is a case of curiosities containing, among other things, a nail on which some unknown object once hung. Xander’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to find that object and complete the collection.
As imperfect as Xander is, he seems to be the perfect man for this mission. As this research wizard does his magic, we get an easy-to-swallow education on the structure and procedures of a modern research library, and on the means at any well-motivated researcher’s disposal to find facts buried within a world full of information. Meanwhile, Xander risks his career and his marriage to a sexually frustrated, French pop-up-book designer. And as he finds out more and more about a priceless, vanished timepiece, he also learns how Jesson has deceived and manipulated him. This discovery finally pushes Xander to take charge of his life and make full use of his powers.
Here is a tale in which revenge is not altogether sweet, nor are endings altogether neat. It has an unceasing flow of wit, a touch of blush worthy naughtiness, more than a touch of suspense, and a lot of practical information about how to do research. And it reveals how much mystery and wonder may come to people who love books and the worlds found in them.