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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dirk Gently Series

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency &
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams
(4/5 stars)

I bought the compilation of both books in the late Douglas Adams' (author of the better-known Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series) Dirk Gently series, which you probably can't find in stores, but you can buy it used online or just buy the two books separately. Anyway, because of this I read both books together and so I might as well review them together.

Overall if you like the Hitchhiker's Guide books there's a lot of the same quirkiness to be found in the Dirk Gently series. Dirk Gently (his real name has changed many times to dodge bill collectors and other nefarious characters) is as oddball as Ford Prefect or Zaphod Beeblebrox only he keeps his feet more or less planted on Earth. He runs what he terms as a holistic detective agency in London that investigates the interconnectedness of all things and mostly on the surface would seem to be a way to bilk gullible old ladies wanting to find their cats out of some money. And yet what we find is that through his strange methods (or perhaps in spite of them) he does manage to get results in the two cases of the series.

Book 1: "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" focuses on the murder of a software designer. Richard, one of the victim's employees who is also dating the victim's sister, is an old school chum of Dirk Gently and so employs him to help find the culprit. Finding the solution involves investigating a magic trick performed by one of Richard and Dirk's old professors for a little girl at a stuffy dinner. How the two events are interconnected is the real mystery as it's pretty easy to deduce the software developer's murderer in the first third or so of the book.

I found the ending a little confusing and the interaction between Richard and Dirk was perhaps a little too similar to that of Arthur and Ford Prefect in the Hitchhiker books with Richard playing the befuddled straight man to Dirk's wacky troublemaker. Still, with its notions about time and Electric Monks it proves to be a good bridge between the Hitchhiker books and the next entry in the Gently series.

Book 2: "Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" features more of Dirk Gently than the first book. This time the befuddled straight man is actually an American woman named Kate, who is on her way to Norway to meet an old flame when the airline counter is destroyed and not by Al-Qaeda either. At the same time, Dirk has been hired as a bodyguard to a record producer, an assignment that goes terribly wrong when the record producer is decapitated by a woolly, green-eyed creature with a scythe. Again the real mystery is unraveling how the two events are interconnected, which is the whole point of having a holistic detective.

And again the ending is a little bit confusing. Still, I liked this one better than the first because it featured more of Dirk Gently so that he seemed to becoming more into his own as a character. Unfortunately, Adams was not able to finish any more books in the series--I believe part of a third novel is included in the "Salmon of Doubt" anthology published posthumously.

As it stands, these books are pretty much just as much fun to read as the Hitchhiker novels and just about as short. Of course since both are (more or less) just set on Earth there's not the same opportunity for galaxy-spanning mirth and mayhem, but there's plenty of quirky humor and fun to be had all the same. So no matter how you go about obtaining them, they're worth the read.

That is all.

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