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1.27.2011

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

"If the Universe came to an end every time there was some uncertainty about what had happened in it, it would never have got beyond the first picosecond. And many of course don’t."

I am just that kind of geek who not only enjoys Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series but, in fact, considers it a work of hilarious genius. For whatever reason, I had never been interested in Adams other series Dirk Gently, a two-book-long mystery series. When presented with the audiobook read by the (sadly) deceased author himself, I finally decided to take a look.

As I've heard it, Adams fancied himself a performer who got stuck being a writer. He apparently longed to play his wacky radio, novel, and television characters rather than sit behind the scenes and write them. Where Adams really did get to perform was on audiobook recordings. If you get the chance to listen to an audiobook recorded by Douglas Adams: do it. The exuberance, hilarity, and brilliance of the man comes out in his reading particularly since it's his own work.

Now as for Dirk Gently in particular... it is inevitable that my review must compare this book to Hitchhiker's. That is, after all, what everyone knows if they know anything at all. It is a bit difficult to review something like this, however.

Dirk Gently rather ironically and paradoxically is more and less mundane than Hitchhiker's. It is set in what was modern-day London (modern when the book was written in 1987) and features no intergalactic hitchhiking. The original cover of the book described it as a "thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic" which is pretty much accurate.

At the beginning of Gently we are introduced to several seemingly divergent and unrelated characters and events. But it's Douglas Adams writing and the book as the word "Holistic" in the title so we know they aren't. Adams adeptly ties these elements together in a way that had me laughing and saying "that's brilliant" often in the same moment. A noteworthy feat: the book several times got me to laugh out loud which is a rare occurrence when I am alone.
Author Douglas Adams

I spent some time looking for the mystery and the detective who was supposed to solve it. In fact the titular character doesn't enter the story proper until roughly half-way and I'm still a bit confused as to whether there was actually a mystery.

It found the divergence in tone interesting. Some elements of the story seem like they could fit perfectly well into Hitchhiker's with almost no alteration while others just seem incongruous at first. Some of that is due to Adam's style, other things are due to the way in which the story is presented. I have no doubt the whole thing would make much more sense to me if I listened to it again.

Criticism might be leveled at the plotting and some extensive ramblings about computer technology which only has a little to do with the plot. Adams was a technology enthusiast and that certainly shows. There is also one character who (literally) fades out of the story and isn't given a satisfactory ending. I hate it when critics nitpick comedies though. If they are funny then they've done their job as far as I'm concerned. Anything else you get such as good plotting, characters, ideas, and the like are merely icing on the cake.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is an enjoyable, clever book. Most of it made me laugh, but some of it caused me to think. Very hard. To me that is Adam's strength in writing. Clever description, clever story, clever humour, clever ideas.

I may have to pick up the sequel: The Long, Dark Tea Time of the Soul sometime as well.

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