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I had only read the first chapter, which the author refers to as “Chapter the First”, before I was wondering aloud if it was the funniest book ever written.This chapter alone was even funnier than Real Ultimate Power, by Robert Hamburger (an ode to a young teen’s masturbation unto all things Ninja). That’s no small feat, as Hamburger’s book is one of the most cherished books on my very lonely bookshelf. The first chapter of Elliot’s book is available for download as a PDF file. To see it, link here. Or better yet, buy the damned book.

An excerpt of the dialogue between our hero, police chief Caleb Spencer and the flatulent mayor, Teddy Roosevel, will give you a sense of Elliot’s unmistakable style. The following conversation in this “historically accurate” novel, e.g., takes place moments before “the sound of church bells erupted from Caleb’s pants” and he answers a call on his 19th century Edison mobile phone: a large teak and mahogany box powered by kerosene. (The have-nots had to do with even clunkier cell phones powered by rats in an exercise wheel.)

Roosevelt tapped a glass with a spoon. “I say, my good man, tell me exactly how you managed to corner the dastardly malefactor! I always love a good story.”

“Well,” Caleb began, “I had just drawn my ‘lovely partner’ toward me, when I saw this gentleman on his hands and knees, barking. I thought to myself, ‘Now, that is highly unusu—’”

“Bully!” interrupted Roosevelt.

Caleb sighed. The mayor loved a good story, but only if it was his own.

“My dear Mr. Spencer, have I ever told you about the time I slept in a hollowed-out four-day-old water buffalo carcass?”

“Yes, I believe that you have, Mayor, several times in fact, but as I have never paid any attention, you may proceed as if you have not.”

“Jolly good then!” And with that, the jovial mayor launched into another boring story of his exploits. Caleb was amazed at how his sarcasm flew straight over Roosevelt’s perfectly round head. Insulting Roosevelt without the mayor’s realizing it had become a game for Spencer’s own private amusement. (Spencer had always been a bit of a loner, and he enjoyed nothing more than playing with himself.)

Set in New York City, 1882, The Shroud of the Thwacker follows the investigation of Jack the Jolly Thwacker’s serial killings of several prostitutes. From NYC Mayor Teddy Roosevelt’s fighting the Battle of San Juan Hill with his trusty robot “Boilerplate” to accounts of a 90 meter high statue of Klansman Nathan Bedford Forest in New York City’s harbor, holding a burning cross to welcome immigrants; this novel, much like your typical high school text book– makes a serious and thorough effort to remain historically inaccurate. But to Elliot’s credit, at least he throws in a few laughs. Well, not a few. A lot. For example, when the killer leaves a cryptic message for investigators at the first murder scene, we read…

Teddy Roosevelt threw up his arms. “What the hell are we supposed to do?” he bellowed. “The way I see it, our suspect is a skilled surgeon, dentist, cobbler, tailor, and makeup artist—and he enjoys styling ladies’ hair! Jesus H. Christ! There’s got to be at least a thousand guys like that in this city.”

Spencer was trying desperately to contain himself.

“Plus, he can’t spell.” Elisabeth said, drawing their attention to a corner of the alley. As if the killer hadn’t left enough clues already, there on the brick wall he had scrawled a cryptic message in chalk:

da mummers are da wonz dat dont get blamed and
wees da wonz dat get thwacked. Im no dandy dan the
water man, yooz can just call me Jack. Jack The Thwacker
cause Ize like to thwack.
The End (I hope you like my poem)

Roosevelt clenched his fists. His eyes turned red with what looked to his companions like rage. Thick, oily liquid from his pupils condensed into round droplets that spilled over his eyes, onto his hot cheeks, and—in the suddenly chill night air—became a fog upon his spectacles. The big teddy bear was crying.

“That has got to be the most beautiful poem I have ever read,” he whimpered as he pulled out his snot rag and blew a loud foghorn into it. “Weehoo,” he added half-heartedly, the blowing effort having shaken something loose.

An added bonus is a series of hilarious illustrations by Elliot’s sister, Amy Elliot Anderson and also, Chris Elliot working himself into the plot midway through the book. He noted during an interview that was done in case the book was made into a movie, so he would have a chance to star in it as well. (Hollywood could use some original ideas, and here’s to the hope it’s made into one.)

The absurdities of the book, woven into an engaging and satirical tapestry depicting 19th century life in America is sure to make it an instant classic in its genre, but it’s not so much because it is well-written with a plot that has unpredictable twists within a stinging social commentary. No, it is a little more than that. At bottom, it is most memorable because it leaves one thinking…

“It is funny! It’s funny because it’s true…”

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