Douglas Adams (may he rest in peace) is probably best known for his Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series, but I have just finished an unrelated but equally funny and imaginative novel by this talented author. Despite being written in 1987, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency seems completely at home in 2012. It’s a mystery, with equal parts dark humor and legitimate scientific and literary references. Not all the humor is dark, though; plenty of the ridiculous situations that arise throughout the book are funny in that airily outrageous way that seems unique to Adams’ work.
I have to admit up front: I had very little notion of what was going on for roughly the first fifty pages of this novel. It was amusing, but I couldn’t tell how things were connected or where the plot was going. We are introduced to a somewhat faulty Electric Monk, a horse with an inner monologue, fed-up cellist Susan Way, computer and music enthusiast Richard MacDuff, and Reg, a professor with a penchant for magic tricks. All of these characters eventually prove to be related to one another, though Adams at first explains only how Reg and Richard know one another. Their dinner together at the fictional St. Cedd’s College is the starting point for what becomes the main story, though much happens behind the scenes that the reader will not know about, much less understand, for a hundred pages or so.
The lack of understanding is irritating at times, to say the least. The only comfort as a reader is the knowledge that the aforementioned main character Richard is equally in the dark. Of course, as we the readers become less befuddled, his predicament on page becomes worse. Actually, Richard’s shared confusion is not the only comfort: there is also the comedy and promise of a revelation to come. Adams had many skills, among them the ability to hold readers’ interest even when nothing seems clear and almost any other book would be abandoned. His humor cuts through every scene, even those dealing with a most bizarre murder.
All of the wild strands begin to come together courtesy of Dirk Gently, holistic detective. Though seemingly absent-minded and genial, Dirk possesses a keen investigative skill and a willingness — even enthusiasm — for bending the rules. Dirk is also rumored to be capable of paranormal feats, though he himself much denies these claims. His denials, however, only serve to fan the flames and increase his notoriety. This puts Dirk in the perfect position to unravel the mysterious events, with Richard and Reg as more or less willing co-conspirators and investigators. With the three men on the case, things begin to come together and make sense (or as much sense as they ever do in the delightfully quirky Adams universe).
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a fun little oddball of a book, a world apart from its Hitchhiker’s Guide brethren but definitely part of the same family. Fans of Douglas Adams will definitely enjoy this read. Those unfamiliar with Adams’s work will likely be fans by the halfway point of this novel. Enjoy a little ridiculous escapism!