Dirk Gently's holistic detective agency
(Douglas Adams, 1987)

Douglas Adams had a relatively short life and wasn't a very prolific writer, but he was a nice man worth listening to, and in my opinion this book was his best work: what he should be remembered for. It's unfortunate that instead he's remembered only for the rather inconsequential and rambling Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

There were two Dirk Gently books. This one, the first, is the better of the two. I think you really have to read it more than once to appreciate it properly, because it's one of those books that gradually weaves a number of threads together and ties them up at the end. If you read it just once, for at least half of the book you won't have much idea what's going on.

What sort of a book is it? Unlike The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it's not a series of comedy sketches cobbled together. It's a proper novel; an eccentric novel, to be sure, but it has a real plot that actually makes sense by the time you reach the end.

The underlying background story is about some people who landed on Earth about four billion years ago and were all killed in an unfortunate accident. The ghost of one of them stayed on Earth all that time, doomed to remain forever unless he could return through time to undo his dreadful mistake.

In the course of the story we meet the rather shifty, unheroic Dirk Gently and his pathetic detective agency; some of the personnel of WayForward Technologies, a much more successful British software company; and some of the Fellows of St Cedd's College, Cambridge, including the Regius Professor of Chronology, who likes to be known as Reg. We also meet a dodo, a horse, and the Electric Monk who rides the horse. We discover that Reg (the Regius Professor) has a very surprising secret. Coleridge's poetry and Bach's music turn out to be linked into the plot.

I find the characters in this story unusual but rather agreeable, and the story makes a satisfactory kind of sense when you learn how it all fits together. I'm fond of the book and it makes a nice treat to reread it occasionally. If I could write something similar, I'd be well pleased with myself.

Written in March 2007