Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is a humorous detective novel by Douglas Adams, first published in 1987. It is described by the author on its cover as a "thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic."
It was the starting entry in the Dirk Gently franchise.
The book was followed by a sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. The only recurring major characters are the eponymous Gently, his secretary Janice Pearce and Sergeant Gilks. Adams also began work on another novel, The Salmon of Doubt with the intention of publishing it as the third book in the series, but died before completing it.
In the book the plot emerges in a fragmented way, with shifting points of view and events that seem out of order. As presented, it shows Richard MacDuff avoiding his boss Gordon Way, the CEO of WayForward Technologies II, by going to the Coleridge dinner at his old college St Cedd's. Following the annual reading of "Kubla Khan" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Coleridge, MacDuff witnesses his former tutor, Professor Urban "Reg" Chronotis, perform an inexplicable magic trick where he makes a cruet disappear and then finds it again by smashing an ancient clay pot that a young girl brought to the dinner, having found it on holiday in Greece. When MacDuff and Prof. Chronotis' adjourn to the professor's lodgings, they find a horse there, which the Professor is alarmed about but unable to explain. MacDuff returns to his London flat and finds himself doing things that are out of character, including climbing a drainpipe to break into the flat belonging to Gordon's sister Susan to erase an embarrassing message he left on her answering machine and later named a suspect in the death of Gordon Way. At that point Dirk Gently, a self-claimed "Holistic Detective" that believes in the "fundamental interconnectedness of all things" and currently searching for a missing cat, intervenes and sets about solving the mystery, even though MacDuff was not aware that there was one.
Four billion years in Earth's past, a group of Salaxalans attempts to populate the Earth; however, a mistake caused by their engineer – who used an Electric Monk to irrationally believe the proposed fix would work – causes their landing craft to explode, killing the Salaxalans and generating the spark of energy needed to start the process of life on Earth. The ghost of the Salaxalan engineer roams the earth waiting to undo his mistake, watching human life develop and waiting to find a soul that it can possess. The ghost finds it can only possess individuals that fundamentally want to do the same task it is trying to accomplish itself. Otherwise, it is only able to influence the individual in subtle ways.
In the early 19th century, the ghost discovers Coleridge, who in this reality has yet to be interrupted by the "man from Porlock" during the writing of "Kubla Khan". The ghost influences Coleridge to describe the accident and how to correct the problem that destroyed the landing craft within the work's prose. The ghost begins seeking out someone whose hardship can be influenced by Coleridge's work when it becomes apparent to him that Coleridge himself is too 'relaxed' on laudanum to be useful to him. It later discovers that Prof. Chronotis possesses a time machine disguised as his quarters. At the aforementioned Coleridge dinner, the ghost influences Prof. Chronotis to use the time machine to perform the magic trick, using the opportunity to lure an Electric Monk and its horse into the quarters. Upon return to the present, the ghost finds the Monk unusable for its purposes and lets it roam free while seeking a new host. The Monk then goes off to kill Way due to a misunderstanding. As a ghost himself, Way attempts to call Susan or MacDuff to tell him something important, but cannot do so without a bodily form. The ghost attempts to possess MacDuff, but only manages to successfully get him to climb into Susan's flat before leaving him.
At this point, Gently has determined that MacDuff had been possessed by a ghost, and, through the insight of a child, determines that a time machine was involved. The two visit Prof. Chronotis who admits to the truth. As they talk, the ghost of the Salaxalan engineer has found Michael Wenton-Weakes, a recently fired editor of an arts magazine. The ghost convinces Wenton-Weakes to read Coleridge's work, leading him to kill Albert Ross, the editor that replaced him. With this action, the ghost is able to fully possess Wenton-Weakes' body. The ghost arrives at Prof. Chronotis' quarters and ask he take them back in time just prior to the explosion of the Salaxalan ship so that he can make the proper repairs. As they watch the ghost take Wenton-Weakes' body out towards the ship, MacDuff gets a call from Susan (due to mixed-up utility connections in the flat) and learns of Ross's murder. Gently realises that the ghost must have used Wenton-Weakes to kill Ross, and asserts they need to stop the ghost before it can repair the ship, which would prevent the formation of life on earth. They travel to the 19th century long enough for Gently to interrupt Coleridge, disrupting the ghost's influence on the author and preventing the full version of "Kubla Khan" containing the instructions for fixing the ship from ever having been written and preventing the ship from being fixed in the past.
Upon arrival back in the 20th century, Gently, MacDuff, and Prof. Chronotis find humanity as they expect it but with very small, subtle changes. Reg discovers his time machine no longer functions, after having the telephone company repair the phone line to his quarters. Dirk learns that the missing cat was never missing in the first place as a result of their actions, and sends his client a revised bill that reads, "To: saving human race from total extinction - no charge."
- Dirk Gently
- Richard MacDuff
- Professor Chronotis
- Gordon Way
- Susan Way
- Electric Monk
- Michael Wenton-Weakes
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Johann Sebastian Bach
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