Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency/The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul Analysis

Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The great Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce gained some notoriety in the early years of this century by arguing that literary genres were unimportant. The imaginative vision an author wished to communicate need not confine itself to fixed literary forms. Whether Croce succeeded in showing his thesis true for Dante and William Shakespeare, his principal subjects, is much disputed among literary critics. There can be little doubt, however, that Croce would have rejoiced had he been able to see Douglas Adams’ new book.

Although officially classed as a mystery, the book might with equal justice be tagged a work of science fiction or even a speculative cosmology. The story begins in conventional fashion with a young woman named Susan who has lost a cat, in pursuit of which she applies to Dirk Gently, a detective of friendly manner, who advances bizarre ideas in perfectly straightforward tones of voice. To him, ghosts are as normal as clients.

That the unusual, even by Gently’s hardly demanding standards, is about to take place will be apparent to the reader by the second chapter. In it, a mysterious being named Monk--either person, computer, or unknown force -- suffers an attack of amnesia; the exact nature of its delusions will later figure heavily in the tale.

The scene then shifts to a charmingly portrayed Cambridge college, which numbers among its faculty an eccentric professor named Urban Chronotis, who understandably prefers...

(The entire section is 449 words.)

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Author Douglas Adams, who found fame with his farcical science-fiction series that began with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), has blended comedy, mystery, and fantasy to create Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Although nominally a series, the two books have little in common apart from the presence of offbeat private investigator Dirk Gently, Adams’ wry musings on the absurdities of life, and his central theme of holism, or the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency centers on the trials and tribulations of a tall, geeky computer programmer named Richard MacDuff, modeled somewhat on the author. When MacDuff’s eccentric boss, Gordon Way, is mysteriously murdered, MacDuff is a prime suspect. Adams proceeds from that premise to weave a complicated tale involving a series of otherworldly occurrences and weird characters, including an alien robot, a time-traveling eccentric, and disembodied spirits. These are all eventually shown to be interconnected not only among themselves and with MacDuff, Way, and the renowned poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge but also with the very beginning of life itself on Earth.

The only person capable of sorting out this mess is Dirk Gently. Gently is in some respects the stereotypical private detective, a loner who rents space in a seedy old building, chain smokes, and jumps at the chance to do some real detective work. Gently is much quirkier than most fictional detectives, though he shares some common foibles. He has a penchant for pizza, wears a long leather coat and an ugly red hat, and is perpetually short of money and behind on his bills. Gently’s unconventional outlook and holistic beliefs enable him to solve the bizarre murder.

Gently discovers that a disembodied alien spirit, whose spaceship accidentally exploded on Earth eons ago, has been moving from character to...

(The entire section is 810 words.)

The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Kate Schechter is in Heathrow Airport to catch a flight to Norway when the check-in desk suddenly shoots through the roof in a ball of flame. Back in London, private eye Dirk Gently arrives late for an appointment to discover his client’s severed head revolving on a turntable. Kate and Dirk attempt to find rational explanations for these bizarre events, occasionally bumping into each other. After numerous misadventures, they find they have stumbled into a quarrel between Odin, the principal Norse god, now living contentedly in an expensive English psychiatric hospital, and his prankster son, Thor, the god of thunder and lightning. Their quests lead Kate and Dirk separately to Valhalla where the detective ends the mythical disagreement.

Adams, best known for THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY quartet, an eccentric mix of science fiction, Monty Python, and P.G. Wodehouse, introduced another series with DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY. In this second installment, as with his earlier novels, Adams combines inspired silliness with semi-serious explorations of philosophical issues. How can people find peace and happiness, he asks, when even the immortals are dissatisfied with their lot? Placing such questions on the same level as wondering why London restaurants refuse to deliver pizza is Adams’ distinct charm. Despite many delightful moments, especially when Dirk tricks a surly mechanic into repairing his ancient Jaguar, this latest effort is not as dense with incident or as rich with interesting characters as are his previous novels.