I didn’t choose to read The Shroud of the Thwacker on the strength of Chris Elliott’s career. If you asked me to name a movie that he’s been in, the only one that would come to mind would be Cabin Boy, and that’s hardly an impressive resumé. Elliott did, however, appear on The Daily Show last December (maybe November), and I admit that I was intrigued enough to check it out (I should point out that this tactic failed me with regards to John Hodgman’s book).
The results were mixed. The book is, to say the least, madcap. It’s told in the first person, as narrator Elliot researches a famous—if short-lived—serial killer in 1882 New York. By means of his “research,” much of the plot then is merely an unfolding of those events (as if in 3rd person), with brief interludes in which we are treated to Elliott’s self-flagellation. That is, until the plot twists, breaks down the fourth wall, &c.. As scatterbrained as much of it might be, and as dubious as I was at first, I found myself drawn to Elliott’s characters, which included a buffoonish Teddy Roosevelt, blusteringly charming and always in search of potables.
Though the end was a bit disappointing (and confusing), and naturally Elliott merely glossed over plot elements that would have been difficult (or at least lengthy) in explanation; still, the book is quirky, but remains coherent enough to enjoy. It’s neither the most inventive thing ever, but Elliott’s prose is remarkably good for a B-actor-turned-novelist (better than Bruce Campbell’s disappointing foray into fiction). Reread value is low, but novelty is high.