Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Author: Douglas Adams
Starring: Harry Enfield, Olivia Colman, Billy Boyd and Andrew Sachs
BBC Audio
RRP: 15.99
ISBN: 978 1 4056 7743 1
Available 08 November 2007

Gordon Way has been murdered and the innocent Richard MacDuff stands accused. Of course Gordon knows that Richard is not to blame; at least his invisible spirit does. However, communicating with anyone living proves more than tricky. Without being officially asked, private detective Dirk Gently (who is more used to dealing with missing cats) takes on the case. Dirk believes in the holistic interconnectedness of all things, and it's a good job he does, because before long he finds himself having to piece together the bizarre events of a seemingly impossible conjuring trick, a Cambridge professor who has been around for far too long, an electric monk searching for its horse (which turns up in a bathroom), a vindictive spirit and a spaceship. And to make matters worse, the fate of the universe is in his hands. Not bad for someone dragged out of Cambridge University by the police, and who can't even pay his long-suffering secretary...

The various media of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy have made Douglas Adams a big name in literature, and particularly readers of science fiction and fantasy. Dirk Maggs, adapter, producer and director of this first Dirk Gently adventure, himself is no stranger to these genres. Having already adapted books three to five of the Hitchhiker trilogy in five parts, he now turns his experienced hand to the even more arduous task of dramatising Dirk Gently for BBC Radio 4. To my mind this would have been difficult because the novel contains many descriptive passages which needed to be made into character dialogue to avoid the obvious inclusion of a narrator. Therefore, we now have a speaking electric monk (which at times seems to pay homage to Marvin the paranoid android), and we have some verbal interaction from the ghost of Gordon Way.

The voice acting is considerably better than expected, bearing in mind certain fan base gripes about the choices. Andrew Sachs's Professor Chronotis I particularly enjoyed, along with Billy Boyd's Richard MacDuff and Toby Longworth's Electric Monk. Harry Enfield appears to play himself in the role of Dirk Gently, which is fine. The sound design and effects are top-notch, as we have come to expect from a Maggs production, but the music should be singled out for hitting all the right moods for each scene. The title music is fabulous, inspiring mystery and melancholia (at least in this reviewer).

So what do we have when we collect together an electric monk, a professor of chronology, a wandering spirit, and much more? Well, even after listening to it I'm not entirely sure. It's not a comfortable experience, as you're made to work for your payoff. This is not so much the fault of this audio piece as it is the mind of Douglas Adams himself. Being such a visionary, Adams' novel is teeming with a multitude of unrelated ideas, thoughts and opinions. Therefore, the utmost concentration is required to follow the plot.

Much as the liner notes say differently, I do think Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency works better in book form; you can read certain passages slowly as required, whereas an audio dramatisation of this nature has to motor along, making it difficult to absorb everything at once. Playing in the car or wandering around at home simply doesn't work; you need to lie-down, close your eyes and be transported. Even then you are rewarded when listening to the whole again. Dirk Maggs deserves much credit for turning a veritable cornucopia of events into a cohesive piece.

This first Dirk Gently adventure might fail to grab a casual mainstream listening audience, but it will most definitely appeal to Hitchhiker fans, readers of surreal fantasy and of course followers of Douglas Adams. I do remember enjoying the second Gently book, The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul, rather more than the first, so I look forward to the broadcast of that adaptation.

Ty Power

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