Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

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If geeks were to play their own version of David Lodge's "Humiliation" game, here would be my entry: I never got into the oeuvre of Douglas Adams at all. But this book showed up on this list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time", and so …

I've not had the best results from that list. I'll keep trying.

The protagonist is young Rich MacDuff, software engineer working on applications for "WayForward Technologies" and its boss, Gordon Way. His current work is on a program that represents business data not in boring old spreadsheets and graphs, but in music. He has a sofa in his apartment that got stuck on a staircase; it's apparently impossible to move it further upward. More mystifyingly, it's also impossible to reverse the moves that got it into that position.

Rich is invited to attend the annual reading of Coleridge's poem ""Kubla Khan" at his alma mater, St. Cedd's College. He meets up with his old professor "Reg", who holds the position of "Regius Professor of Chronology". Originally established by George III, "to see if there was any particular reason why one thing happened after another, and if there was any way of stopping it." During their discussions, a horse turns up in Reg's bathroom. Did it come in the window?

In the meantime, Gordon Way, Rich's boss and the brother of Rich's girlfriend is murdered. Rich winds up a suspect, and that's where the titular Dirk Gently comes in. Can he pull together these various odd things into a coherent explanation?

You get the point: it's pretty silly. Adams' style hits a lot of comic bases: he's ironic in spots, witty in others, surreal in still others, … There are (probably) a lot more. I chuckled a lot more near the beginning of the book than I did near the end. The "look at how clever I am" schtick apparently doesn't work over a whole 300+ pages. And there's an additional irritant in Adams' "anything goes" plot; when anything goes, nothing really matters.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 6:33 AM EDT