1987; 291 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : British Humor; Fantasy; Quasi-Mystery. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Gordon Way has been killed. Even he can see that. Literally. Because he’s now a ghost, and everyone knows you can’t become one of those until you’re no longer alive.
Strangely, Gordon has no idea who shot him. Neither do the police. But they have a strong lead – Richard MacDuff. He has a motive and the means, no alibi, and was caught acting very strange on the night of the murder.
Richard needs to hire a Private Investigator to clear his name and determine who really did kill Gordon. So he pays a visit to Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency? After all, he’s met Dirk once, albeit many years ago. And funnily enough, Reg was just asking about him at dinner tonight.
Wait a minute. Just what the heck is a “holistic” detective agency, anyway?
What’s To Like...
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency follows Douglas Adams’ (first three books of) Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series, and simply put, has the same captivating weirdness that makes HHGTTG so popular. You might think from the title that it is going to be a Murder-Mystery, and both those elements are present, at least for a while. But really the focus isn’t on the “who” and “why”, which are both revealed early on. Instead, it’s on the “how’d this come about?” aspect.
All the characters are well-developed and unique. Dirk Gently may be the headliner, but he’s pudgy, doesn’t appear until 37%, and is somewhat of an a$$hole. Still, it’s fun to watch him as he utilizes his Sherlock Holmesian logic to “solve” the case. Richard MacDuff is the perfect schmuck of a protagonist, and it’s a blast to watch Gordon as he “learns” the physics of being a ghost.
Like HHGTTG, DGHDA is a geek’s delight. There are multiverses and time travel, an impossibly stuck sofa, and a horse in a bathtub. We learn the truth about Bach and Coleridge, and even Ginger Baker gets a brief mention. Since it was written in 1987, it was an unexpected treat to meet up with some obsolete technology – car tape decks, telephone answering machines where you rewind the tape to play back messages, and outside public telephones.
I liked the writing style. Adams spins several separate (POV) storylines simultaneously to keep things from becoming boring; then gradually and skillfully brings them together. There’s wit aplenty, lots of plot twists, and a couple cusswords thrown in to keep the prudes away.
Kewlest New Word ...
Moggy (n.) : a cat, especially one that doesn’t have a pedigree (a Britishism)
Others : Pettishly (adj.); Mazy (adj.); Dep (v., Britishism, and unclear in meaning)
Amazon offers the e-book version of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for $11.99, which seems somewhat steep to me. The rest of Adams’ sci-fi books are priced in the $6.99-$7.99 range.
By means of an ingenious series of strategically deployed denials of the most exciting and exotic things, he was able to create the myth that he was a psychic, mystic, telepathic, fey, clairvoyant, psychosassic vampire bat.
What did “psychosassic” mean?
It was his own word and he vigorously denied that it meant anything at all. (loc. 603)
“Do you know,” said Sergeant Gilks of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, blinking with suppressed emotion, “that when I arrive back here to discover one police officer guarding a sofa with a saw and another dismembering an innocent wastepaper basket I have to ask myself certain questions? And I have to ask them with the disquieting sense that I am not going to like the answers when I find them.
“I then find myself mounting the stairs with a horrible premonition, Svlad Cjelli, a very horrible premonition indeed. A premonition, I might add, that I now find horribly justified. I suppose you can’t shed any light on a horse discovered in a bathroom as well? That seemed to have an air of you about it.”
“I cannot,” said Dirk, “as yet. Though it interests me strangely.” (loc. 2391)
“Now. Having saved the entire human race from extinction I could do with a pizza.” (loc. 3519)
The only issue I had with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was the ending, which was a bit of a letdown. While it’s true that Dirk deductively reasons out the “big picture” conundrum, none of the lesser plotlines are resolved. Gordon remains a ghost, and the misadventures of Dirk, Reg, Richard, and Susan, etc. just kind of grind to a halt, to be continued in Book 2.
Along those same lines, the reader meets a number of fascinating characters, who enter, get developed, then exit the story, never to reappear. Among them are Sergeant Gilks, Janet Pearce, and a precocious young girl named Sarah. But I suppose some of them will show up in the sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
But this is a small price to pay for another heaping helping of Douglas Adams zaniness and wit, and it’s a pity that he passed away while working on Book 3, The Salmon of Doubt, the unfinished pieces of which were issued in a patchwork collection of his other writings in 2005. I borrowed DGHDA from my local digital library, which offers the other two books in the series as well. I will probably read the second one, because I’m an Adams Aficionado, but I’m iffy on Book 3.
8 Stars. Listen, the Dirk Gently series is never going to supplant HHGTTG as everyone’s favorite Douglas Adams reading. But it’s a fine, well-written supplement to Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox, and it kept me entertained throughout.