Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

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Douglas Adams

GENRES:
Sci-fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Satire

SUMMARY:
The story is driven by three characters: Richard MacDuff is a computer programmer with a fascination for how numbers can be used to describe the world; Dirk Gently is a lazy but smart and amiable con artist; Reg Chronotis is an elderly professor rescued from a script Adams wrote for Dr Who which was never broadcast. A series of apparently unrelated events fire Dirk’s curiosity, leading the three characters to save all life on earth from never having existed. Along the way the author treats his readers to the electric monk, the thoughts of a horse and the frustrations of being a ghost. The electric monk, in particular, stands out as an invention of fictional genius.

RESPONSE:
I have returned to this novel many times in the twenty years since first reading it and I enjoy it now a lot more than I did at fifteen. Douglas Adams’ departure from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is more accessible now I have a working knowledge of the Cambridge University lifestyle, probabilities and the poetry and life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, all strong features of the story.

I have often heard The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy described as a series of one-liners, a sentiment I have always resented because I enjoy the story in its many forms. The first Dirk Gently novel does give this description some credence, though, as it hangs together as a coherent story leading the reader on a journey far better than earlier works.

Douglas Adams tells the story well. The characters are rendered in sufficient detail, that their decisions and reactions are believable. Considerable thought must have gone into making every aspect of a complex story tie together without it seeming forced.

Time travel paradoxes are addressed and used as plot devices and in the tying up of loose ends, though I only realised this once I’d become familiar with Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Kahn.” Now that I know the poems well, the book makes for unadulterated reading pleasure but I remember feeling as though I was running to keep up when I read it the first time.

Douglas Adams described the book as “A thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic”. I class it as good science fiction because it offers the reader the opportunity to view their own world from new perspectives but it is further qualified by the presence of a time machine, a space ship and aliens. The second Dirk Gently novel, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul does offer new perspectives but it concentrates on whether gods made men or men made gods and so might not warrant a review on a science fiction website.

A draft version of the third Dirk Gently novel,The Salmon of Doubt, has been made posthumously available but I can’t bring myself to read it. It would be frustrating trying to second guess what might have been changed in subsequent drafts. It would be beyond frustrating if the draft version had no ending. Imagine reading The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy only to have it finish when Arthur first meets Slartibarfast.

Dirk Gently’s Detective Agency came along when The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was already firmly entrenched as my favourite book. It took me a long time and some extra curricular reading to fully appreciate it but it now sits in a very close second place.


Reviewed by Worldslaziestbusker