Since 2003, John Swartzwelder has been writing novels. The novels look like this:
There have been five of them so far, they are all as bland looking as this, they're published by some company called Kennydale Books, and they can only be bought on-line. My wife got me the first three -- the title pictured above, Double Wonderful, and How I Conquered Your Planet -- for Valentine's Day (I got her a bunch of grapes), and because the length of these novels appear to top out at around 150 pages, I decided to go right ahead and read the first one.
The first one is The Time Machine Did It, and it tells the story of Frank Burly (real name Edward R. Torgeson, Jr.), a private detective who is, by his own admission, terrible at his job, and prefers to not work that hard at it:
The kind of case I like is where I've just deposited my retainer in the bank and I turn around and there's the missing person I've been hired to find and I say something like 'hey your horseshit wife is looking for you' and he says something like 'No kidding! Thanks for the tip. I'll call her up right now'. And the case is solved. That's the kind of case I like.
The Time Machine Did It is not about one of those cases, however. No, in this instance, Burly's client is Thomas Dewey Mandible III, an apparently homeless man who claims to have been the richest man in town just the night before, but now his entire fortune, including his house, back accounts and stocks have been stolen ("Sounds like a very serious robbery you had there," says Frank). The only thing Mandible wishes to hire Frank to retrieve, though, is a small statue of "Justice Holding the Scales", which he says is a family heirloom. Not sure how this homeless man is going to pay his fee, Frank nevertheless agrees, and the plot is off and running.
But for Swartzwelder, the plot only exists to be made fun of -- in fact, everything in the novel exists only to be made fun of -- so spending any more time on summarizing it would be time wasted. Suffice it to say, the first half of the novel involves Frank using more-or-less traditional methods of detection. For instance, at one point he consults a man who fences stolen goods with whom he has had contact in the past:
The first person I went to see was a fence I knew named Frank. Frank the Fence, we used to call him. Then we'd laugh a little, because there were two 'F's in there.
And so on. Eventually, Burly discovers that the town's criminal element has gotten hold of a time machine, which is shaped like a briefcase and was invented by a local scientist, and used that technology to ruin the Mandible name and fortune before it was even really made, and the reasons for all of this are discovered in the book's second half, which deals with Frank's largely accidental adventures along the space/time continuum His first temporal jaunt takes him to 1941 (he doesn't know it, but that's when all the important parts of the plot actually happened). When he realizes that he has traveled over 60 years backwards through time, he has a very hard time believing it, and goes about seeking proof. First, he buys a calendar off a "calendar boy", whose wares further indicate that he is in 1941. But that's not enough for him:
I walked up to some people who were filming a movie on the street and asked Sydney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart what year it was and they both confirmed the date I had been told before. When I was leaving, shaking my head with amazement, I heard the director say: "Wait, maybe we should leave it in. Maybe it's great." But then some other guy say: "Naw, it stinks." And they started re-shooting the scene.
As I said before, the plot of this novel exists to be mocked, and therefore very little of what transpires in the second half of the novel actually serves to move the narrative forward. It's mostly just jokes -- one absurdist, dead-pan and frequently hilarious joke after another. For instance, after traveling to 1941, Frank managed to lose the time machine, and so, shortly after his encounter with Bogart, he decides to find out if anyone can simply build him a new one. He consults a "likely looking mechanic".
"It's shaped like a briefcase," I told him, "but that's only part of the story. It's also got all sorts of wheels and blinking lights and things inside. As illustrated here. Because it's a time machine as well as a briefcase. It's two things in one."
The mechanic gives building the thing a whirl, but the resulting gizmo only manages to knock Burly unconscious for five hours. Furious, he goes back to confront the mechanic.
"...This is a lemon. I'm not paying you for this. Do they have a Better Business Bureau in this time period?"
[The mechanic] hesitated for a moment, moved sideways to the left to block my view of something, then said, no, there wasn't one. Lucky for him.
This is easily one of the most ridiculous books I've ever read. I'm not even sure it counts as an actual novel. It's roughly a novel in length, and everything in it is made up, thereby qualifying it as a work of fiction, but there aren't any genuine characters as you and I understand such things to exist and function in works of art, or a story that follows any kind of logic, or anything. It's actually just a bunch of jokes. Really, really funny jokes. From where I stand, jokes seem to be getting much less funny these days, so the idea that there's a guy like Swartzwelder out there, who wants only to make you laugh, and is able to do so without making endless pop culture references or playing for applause milked from his audience and their political philosophies, is a very rare and welcome thing.