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I am so glad that I discovered audiobooks before I ventured into the strange world of Dirk Gently. Both Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul were narrated by Douglas Adams and provided a rare treat for one who last read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy some thirty years ago. Douglas Adams does a terrific job of reading his own work, adding just the right emphasis and comedic timing to make it a fun read.

As part of my desire to expand the scope of Monday Murder Mystery these two crossover novels seemed perfect for inclusion. They cross the genres of mystery, science fiction, fantasy and ghost stories. With just a hint of philosophy, religion and literature thrown in on the side.

Sharing a plot summary of either of these novels would be setting my goals far too high. Not only would it be difficult, I am not at all sure it would make a lot of sense. However, the editors over at Wikipedia have written an excellent synopsis of both books for you, leaving me to share with you some of the pure delight.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
by Douglas Adams
Published by Random House/Simon & Schuster
Paperback: $6.78, Kindle: $6.44, Audible: $8.59
January 14, 1990
306 pages

The first book, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is, according to the author, "a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics." It involves a missing cat, a ghost, time travel, an Electric Monk (created to believe "things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe") and Samuel Coleridge, not necessarily in that order.

The missing cat is one that Dirk Gently has been tracking for seven years. As a holistic detective who believes in the "interconnectedness of all things" and only charges his clients for his expenses, he carefully explains to the cat's owner that his three-week trip to a beach in the Bahamas was essential to the search for her now, 19-year-old cat.

Dirk Gently himself is described as "more like a succession of extraordinary events than a person." His room:

The room was not a room to elevate the soul. Louis XIV, to pick a name at random, would not have liked it, would have found it not sunny enough, and insufficiently full of mirrors. He would have desired someone to pick up the socks, put the records away, and maybe burn the place down. Michelangelo would have been distressed by its proportions, which were neither lofty nor shaped by any noticeable inner harmony or symmetry, other than that all parts of the room were pretty much equally full of old coffee mugs, shoes and brimming ashtrays, most of which were now sharing their tasks with each other. The walls were painted in almost precisely that shade of green which Raffaello Sanzio would have bitten off his own right hand at the wrist rather than use, and Hercules, on seeing the room, would probably have returned half an hour later armed with a navigable river.
So, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency opens with a scene involving the said Electric Monk, (who had developed a fault "and had started to believe all kinds of things, more or less at random. It was even beginning to believe things they’d have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City.") mounted on a horse in the middle of a valley that it believed was pink. It wasn't. The Electric Monk had been abandoned there due to its flaw which made him believe the valley was pink.

We then proceed to a University Coleridge dinner where magic is displayed. Apparently. Naturally, the conversation drifts into teaching:

"The teacher usually learns more than the pupils. Isn't that true?"
"It would be hard to learn much less than my pupils," came a low growl from somewhere on the table, "without undergoing a pre-frontal lobotomy."
Towards the end of this dinner, the boss of one of the attendees dies in an automobile accident, leaving his ghost attempting to make a phone call. There is a sofa in a hallway that cannot physically be removed, because it cannot possibly have gotten there in the first place. Did I mention that the attendee, one Richard MacDuff, the one with the hallway sofa, failed to pick up his girlfriend (and sister to his now deceased boss) before heading to the college for the dinner? He called her, got her answering machine and left a message promising her a weekend away in atonement that he realized, after hanging up, that he could not possibly deliver and decides to climb through a window into her flat to erase the message.

That is where Dirk Gently spies him and takes charge of the investigation. The holistic investigation, before it ends, includes everything from the Electric Monk to the magic trick, from the stuck sofa to the missing cat, and from the ghost to Kubla Khan. Also the horse in the Professor's room.

Oh, and the fate of mankind, too.

You really have to read it.


The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
by Douglas Adams
Published by Simon & Schuster
Paperback: $6.78, Kindle: $6.44, Audible: $12.23
1989
380 pages

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul is the second in the Dirk Gently series which would have included at least three novels as Douglas Adams was at work on The Salmon of Doubt when he passed away. It begins:

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport."

Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk (Murmansk airport is the only exception of this otherwise infallible rule), and architects have on the whole tried to reflect this in their designs.

This particular airport happens to have the Norse god Thor at "Terminal Two [...] trying to catch the 15:37 flight to Oslo." Unfortunately, he has no money, credit card or passport, but is just another washed-up, out of work, has-been god.

You see, in Adams' world all of the immortal gods remain on earth for all eternity, long after they have ceased being worshiped by their mortal creators. Forgotten, all but invisible, they pick up work where they can find it, often in commercials.

Standing behind Thor at the ticket counter is an American woman living in London, Kate Schechter, who is ready to pay for Thor's ticket in order to get her own and board her plane.

"My name is Kate Schechter.  Two 'c's, two 'h's, two 'e's, and also a 't', an 'r', and an 's'. Provided they're all there the bank won't be fussy about the order they come in. They never seem to know themselves."
The ticket counter explodes in a huge ball of flame and while many claimed credit for the explosion, no cause was ever found. A junior cabinet minister had the misfortune to suggest, "on television the following night in a phrase which was to haunt the rest of his career--the check-in desk had just got 'fundamentally fed up with being where it was.'" Odder still, no one was killed in the massive explosion in the crowded airport, although a few, like Kate, spent time in a hospital recovering from their wounds.

However, the case that Gently is working on is one involving a client who is being haunted by a big green-eyed monster. When Dirk arrives at the client's house for a meeting he discovers the head of said client atop a record, Hot Potato, spinning on a turntable.

Investigating the claims of his now dead client, is complicated for Gently by the eagle who is stalking him, an out-of-order soda machine and a refrigerator so dirty that he and his cleaning lady are engaged in a long-running war to determine who has to open it first.

How Gently's dead client is related to an exploding ticket counter, Norse gods and an American hungry for a delivered pizza provides the framework for a hugely entertaining and very funny read. And of course, as the holistic detective firmly believes in the   "interconnectedness of all things," all things are connected.

I thought the pacing in this second book is better than the first, the plot moves along without a lot of wandering detours. Although there are still plenty of detours to satisfy any Douglas Adams fan. A few of my favorite lines:

"She had heard it said that humans are supposed only to use about a tenth of their brains, and that no one was very clear what the other nine-tenths were for, but she had certainly never heard it suggested that they were used for storing penguins."

"...he had a tremendous propensity for getting lost when driving. This was largely because of his "Zen" method of navigation, which was simply to find any car that looked as if it knew where it was going and follow it. The results were more often surprising than successful, but he felt it was worth it for the sake of the few occasions when it was both."

"Dennis Hutch had stepped up into the top seat when its founder had died of a lethal overdose of brick wall, taken while under the influence of a Ferrari and a bottle of tequila."

Both novels are the type that call for rereading. The first time through it is best to relax, don't try too hard to figure out what is going on, and just enjoy the ride. It will all make sense in time. During the second read, more of the characters and the logic is apparent. For me, the third time will be just for the fun of it.

Douglas Adams was born and raised in England, attending both the prep and senior school at Brentwood in Essex. According to Wikipedia, 'On the strength of a bravura essay on religious poetry that discussed the Beatles and William Blake, he was awarded a place at St John's College, Cambridge to read English, going up in 1971." Interestingly, he joined the Footlights on his second attempt, in 1973, just a half dozen years before Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry teamed up at the same place in 1979.

He briefly wrote and played bit parts on the BBC show Monty Python, and did the odd job for radio after college, but made his living in more pedestrian jobs, until he started writing The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as a radio series. He wrote a few episodes for the long running Dr. Who series and became the script editor for the 17th season in 1979.

An inveterate Mac user, Adams was the first to own one in Europe (Stephen Fry being the second) and appeared as a spokesman for Apple. A "radical atheist," he was also an environmental activist who briefly lived in California before he died of a heart attack at age 49 in 2001. He is buried in England.

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Sep 23, 2013 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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