Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

By: Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently is a private detective who is more interested in telekinesis, quantum mechanics, and lunch than fiddling around with fingerprint powder, so his investigations tend to produce startling and unexpected results. A mysterious murder results in the uncovering of a bewildered ghost, a secret time-traveler, and the devastating secret that lies behind the whole of human history. In this part detective, part sci-fi, and part romantic epic, this secret may just threaten to bring humanity to a premature end. That is unless Dirk has anything to say about it.

It’s possible that I may favor Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency over The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but that’s a tough call.

What I appreciate about this story is the complexity and necessity of paying attention to smaller details. Early in the narrative, the character Reg makes a comment that, when rereading it, I thought was a typo. Turns out, that “typo” ended up being a major plot point later in the story which was both validating and delightfully fun. While classically comedic and absurd in that special Douglas Adams way, readers still spend time trying to unravel a mystery like that of serious detective stories (albeit in a very light-hearted way).

With a lot of moving parts, I could see this novel irritating some readers who take their mysteries very seriously. Though anyone who did not read the blurb about the book before picking it up really has no one to blame but themselves. That textbook odd British humor is plain as day and this book is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. For example, a sizable part of the story is spent explaining that Richard had a couch delivered to his flat that somehow got stuck on the stairs. No one can move it and even more odd, no one knows how it physically could have gotten stuck the way it did. Richard even goes so far as to write a computer program to uncover the best way to get the couch unstuck, and he learns that, according to physics, the couch shouldn’t be there at all. Then we get to spend most of the book wondering what’s going on with the damn couch, and I gotta admit, I wanted to know.

This classic gem moves quickly like a fever dream and never stops to apologize for it. It had more “plot” than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in the sense that Dirk’s tale does not move as randomly from one scene to another. The whole story loops back in on itself, and if I were to reread it a second time, I have a feeling I would catch all the details that I missed until the end. Kind of like a cozy mystery, this story focuses more on the process of getting the answer and the characters than the actual murder.

I think the oddest part for me was that it took 90 pages to formally introduce Dirk which was over a third of the way through the book! This story was published the same year as Mort by Terry Pratchett, and I am now wholly convinced that the 80s were just a great decade for British comedy.

Overall rating: 5


    1. I haven’t seen the show but I would be interested to hear what you think of it! I imagine it’s probably quite different from the book. Do they include the couch? I hope so!


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