Thursday, November 3, 2016

Book Review: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987)

I'll begin this review with a confession: As much of a diehard fan as I am of Douglas Adams' 'Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy' series of books, I have never really developed an interest in reading the two Dirk Gently novels until recently. It's strange too, because The Hitchhiker novels were some of my favorite books of all time back when I had first read them (which I would still gladly include in my top 10 now). You would think I'd have been more curious to delve into these at the time! I have another confession to make: What gave me the motivation to finally pick it up, was the information I had heard and seen regarding the new TV series on BBC America (currently airing as I type this). It looked like it could be a lot of fun, and was something I felt immediately curious over. The week before it aired, I ended up finding a paperback copy of the first book at a library sale, and figured I could hardly go wrong for the $.50 it cost me. Imagine my surprise to find out that it has almost nothing in common with BBC's new series (so far)! But that's not the point here, as this blog is about the novel, and not the TV show.

I'm going to try as best I can not to come off as if I'm jumping from place to place during this review, but I have a feeling it will be difficult to do, since the book itself is written in such a style. The first few chapters merely give us information about the setting, with some clues about what we're even supposed to be taking in at this point. Dirk? We don't even hear a mention of his name until the end of chapter 4. Sounds odd, yes? Trust me when I say you don't even know the half of it. We're introduced to multiple characters (such as The Electric Monk, Richard, Gordon, Reg, and others) with seemingly no connection to each other. Cue Dirk (also known as Svlad Cjelli), who comes in to somehow bring it all together and solve a murder. This isn't done by any typical means however, as this is a holistic detective agency, meaning that Dirk believes in the "interconnectedness" of all things in the universe. He simply can't be bothered by trivial matters, such as physical evidence, to solve a case.

It's hard to look back on this book and recall when it all actually started to come together and make even a semblance of sense. Sure, there are plenty of clues that the reader can pick up on and figure out on their own, but there are so many other strange and wacky plot points to throw you off track, it's actually remarkable. Because of this confusing nature, I admit it was a bit difficult to stay interested during the first quarter or so of the book. It reminded me of how confused I was the first time I read Frank Herbert's "Dune," not being able to understand the terminology being thrown at me right in the first chapter.

Like "Dune" however, I am very glad I stuck with this book all the way to the end. When things finally did begin to come together, it was almost impossible to put down. I can attest to this, due to the fact that I stayed up until about 4 AM to read the last quarter of it in one sitting. (Honestly, when your book consists of plot twists involving ghosts, time travel, and the secrets of the very universe itself, who can say no!?)

It's easy to compare Dirk's character to that of Shelock Holmes and The Doctor from Doctor Who, the latter in particular. This isn't a coincidence, as Adams actually came up with this idea for Dirk Gently during his time writing for Doctor Who. If you were to look up the serials "City Of Death" and more importantly, the cancelled "Shada," then you would likely notice multiple similarities (which I will not post here at the risk of spoiling any major plot points in this book). I would argue that Dirk is nuttier than both Sherlock and The Doctor put together, and I do not say that lightly. This is a man that made trips to other continents and added it to a woman's bill, while claiming it was all in the name of finding her lost cat!

What really makes this disjointed novel still work in the end is Douglas Adams' brilliant use of wit and humor. If anyone can pull off something as utterly ridiculous as this story, and still make it feel worth your while, it's Adams. I found myself rethinking old scientific concepts that I had always taken for granted growing up, and caught myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. It was also a relief to see that none of the chapters or paragraphs in this book were wasted. Everything really WAS connected and it made the remainder of the read far more satisfying. I am also tempted to re-read it now, and to go in with a completely different mindset to the earlier chapters that confused me so much the first time around.

This is far from a perfect book (and I admit, I have a hard time recommending it to everyone, due to the confusing and fragmented nature of the storytelling as a whole), but any fan of Hitchhiker's Guide and the remainder of Adams' work owes it to themselves to give "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" a try. Even with the abrupt and arguably anticlimactic ending, I never felt that my time reading this was wasted in any way. If you have never read any of Adams' other work before, I would suggest starting with Hitchhiker's Guide (as so many already have) and going from there if you decide you want more of that same kind of charm. Whether or not the new TV series succeeds, this book is not to be missed.

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