As much as I enjoyed ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’, I have to say that ‘The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul’ is the better book. The reason for that is simple – you get more Dirk for your pound! Whereas it was halfway through before this most intriguing of detectives put in an appearance in the first novel, here he arrives in Chapter Three – waging a war with his cleaner as to which of them is actually going to open the fridge door (something which hasn’t been done in over three months) and clean out whatever he or she finds within. It’s a highly amusing vignette, and one which Adams has the genius to turn into a major plot point.
Having now re-read the whole canon, I think I’m qualified to examine Dirk Gently as a detective – and I find he actually has a great deal in common with Sherlock Holmes. (A man with whom he has fundamental differences on the subject of eliminating the impossible). Like Holmes he seems to be asexual, with a love of clutter and a great deal of esoteric information at his fingertips. Indeed he is possibly even more observant than Sherlock, as there are things that Dirk would spot which Sherlock would never give a moment’s credence to. Unfortunately though, there isn’t a John Watson equivalent on the scene to recount episode after episode of this great man’s adventures, but then Gently may be an even more infuriating person to hang around with than his Baker Street colleague.
Indeed this tale opens with Gently’s secretary, having finally abandoned him, working at the check-in at Heathrow Terminal Two. When a passenger can’t board a plane the check-in desk shoots suddenly, and inexplicably, hundreds of feet into the air. From there we encounter angry eagles, mysterious Coke machines, one of the most truly bizarre murders in fiction (which is then, truly bizarrely, labelled a suicide by the police) and the entrance to Valhalla through London’s St Pancras station. Once again Adams’ plotting is not as strong as it could be, and the final quarter does drag somewhat, but it’s brilliantly written and the jokes do keep coming.
It is a real shame that Adams died and we don’t have half a dozen more Gently tales (though given his productivity, that probably would have been unlikely anyway). But at least we have the two, and I promise it won’t be another twenty years before I re-read them again.