By Chris Elliott (Miramax Books, 358 pages, $22.95)

It's been a while since Chris Elliott entertained lucky late-night TV viewers with such sublime, absurd brilliance as the super-short skinflick Poolside Ecstasy (one of many Elliott bits shown on Late Night with David Letterman) and the short-lived early-'90s Fox show Get a Life!, in which Elliott starred as Chris Peterson, a 30-year-old paperboy still living with his eternally bathrobed parents.

Fans are still waiting for the whole Get a Life! series to be available on DVD, but in the meantime they can content themselves with The Shroud of the Thwacker, Elliott's first novel. (His other book, 1989's Daddy's Boy, was a Mommie Dearest spoof of growing up with a famous father—Bob Elliott of the comedy team Bob and Ray—so controlling that Chris had to wear a bald-head wig after Bob started to lose his hair. Every other chapter was Bob Elliott's rebuttal to the previous one.) In his new book, a playful cross between Time After Time and The Alienist (a main character even shares a first name with Alienist author Caleb Carr), a modern-day "actor, writer, bon vivant" named Chris Elliott investigates a century-old New York legend, the murder spree of Jack the Jolly Thwacker. Chapters hop back and forth between 1882 and 2005 and have names like "Chapter the Thirteenth, in which our hero escapes, a parley is set, an ally is murdered, and a tree grows in Brooklyn."

Characters include Don Imus (the only person still alive from 1882), Yoko Ono, Marilyn Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt and, mysteriously, Boilerplate—local comic artist Paul Guinan's famous (and famously fake) character of a Victorian-era robot soldier.

The Shroud of the Thwacker has plenty of Get a Life!'s ridiculousness: Other characters constantly refer to the 44-year-old narrator as a "kid"; nearly every paragraph has some crazy overt anachronism; and Elliott's Gilded Age prostitutes offer bibbles in the bobble, windy-works, and fish in the dish with tartar sauce on the side. And in the end, the whole thing makes little sense but keeps you laughing anyway.

Chris Elliott reads at 7:30 pm Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 238-1668.