On the other hand, who, these days, is Thomas Berger? The serio-comedian of Little Big Man and the Reinhart trilogy here kisses serio pretty much goodbye as Russel Wren, teaching-fellow-turned-private-eye, slides from seedy idleness into 72 hours of justifiable paranoia and incorrigible wordplay. (He: ""Ophelia. . ."" She: ""You try feeling me and you'll get a knuckle sandwich."") Gus Bakewell, thug, starts the nightmare rolling by dropping the cryptic title name, pummeling Wren, and surfacing as a corpse in various offices, elevators, and bathtubs. In no time Wren is under suspicion of murder, pimping, pushing, and fagginess. A vice squad trio--officers Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox--quizzes him unmercifully on Ruskin, Emerson, and alibis, and Wren races off to clear himself and track down the ubiquitous but invisible Villanova. Clues: a bullet in a brownie, a black lace brassiere, ""the Sforza Figurine."" Suspects: Boris the pedophile, Natalie (""Pick up a Czech"") Novotny of the Treasury Department, a busful of Lolitas from the Stavrogin Academy for Young Ladies, and the Gay Assault Team. Along the way to a truly chutzpahtic denouement the fists, bullets, zippers, and polyglot allusions fly. (Wren: ""Is this another ruse?"" Boris: ""Mais oui! Je suis russe."") Silly stuff indeed, owing far more to Perelman's parodies than to the real Hammett-Chandler thing, but a little tolerance will make a lot of laughing possible. And, in the authentically grimy backdrop--a New York of pimpmobiles, abandoned office buildings, cop-criminal confusions, and corpses that stay dead--you might just spot a slightly funereal Berger presiding over this scrawny, let-me-entertain-you farce.