Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, Book Review

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency still contains Douglas Adam’s trademark offbeat and fantastical elements but its driving force is a much more mature and intelligent brand of humour. Read our full review.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency Book Synopsis: 

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency audiobook Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently has an unshakeable belief in the interconnectedness of all things, but his Holistic Detective Agency mainly succeeds in tracking down missing cats for old ladies. Then Dirk stumbles upon an old friend behaving bizarrely – and he’s drawn into a four-billion-year-old mystery that must be solved if the human race is to avoid immediate extinction.

Harry Enfield stars as Douglas Adams’ much-loved psychic sleuth, with Billy Boyd (The Lord of the Rings), Andrew Sachs (Fawlty Towers), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), and Olivia Colman (Broadchurch).

Genre: Audio, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi-Fantasy, Humour, Crime-Detective

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Oh dear… I have a dilemma. I awarded a 5-star rating to the book Douglas Adams is most well known for, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I have now found this lesser-known title is far superior.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency still contains Douglas Adam’s trademark offbeat and fantastical elements but its driving force is a much more mature and intelligent brand of humour. It is seething with world-weary sarcasm. Unlike ‘Hitchhiker’, the action is predominantly earthbound, predominantly involving humans, predominantly dealing with real-world situations (albeit very strange ones). The characters just happen to have the good fortune (or is it misfortune?) to make the acquaintance of the slippery charlatan Dirk Gently.

Svlad Cjelli. Popularly known as Dirk, though, again, “popular” was hardly right. Notorious, certainly; sought after, endlessly speculated about, those too were true. But popular? Only in the sense that a serious accident on the motorway might be popular– everyone slows down to have a good look, but no one will get too close to the flames. Infamous was more like it. Svlad Cjelli, infamously known as Dirk.

Character ensemble

Adams has surrounded Dirk with a wonderful cast of characters – my favourites being the well-meaning but hapless people-pleaser Richard McDuff, Gently’s long-suffering and deliciously snarky secretary Janice and the lovable and very forgetful Reg (aka Professor Urban Chronotis, the Regius Professor of Chronology, Cambridge)

After the initial craziness of the many disperse plot elements being introduced, what becomes apparent is there is a superior mind driving this wacky bus and although its destination is unknown you are very happy to be on board.

The dialogue in this novel is top-shelf and my enjoyment of it only enhanced by the fantastic comedic timing of the BBC Audiobook cast – Billy Boyd and Olivia Coleman in particular (listen to an audio sample). In some passages the wisecracks come so thick and fast, you could easily miss pure gems while still laughing at what came before.

Dialogue worthy of quoting

It is unsurprising there are pages devoted to quotes from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. While their true brilliance is only apparent within the context of the novel, here is a taste of the girth of Dirk Gently wisdom dished out:

“It is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto non-existent blindingly obvious. The cry ‘I could have thought of that’ is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too.”


“There is no point in using the word ‘impossible’ to describe something that has clearly happened.”

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency offers so much value for attentive readers, such as references to literature, music and pop culture Adams has woven into the dialogue.

“Yes it is,’ said the Professor. ‘Wait—’ he motioned to Richard, who was about to go out again and investigate— ‘let it be. It won’t be long.’

Richard stared in disbelief. ‘You say there’s a horse in your bathroom, and all you can do is stand there naming Beatles songs?’

The Professor looked blankly at him.”

Skilfully plotted farce

For all its charm and humour, what most impressed me about Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was just how tightly plotted it was. What at first appear to be flippant actions or character comments turn out to be judiciously placed puzzle pieces that coalesce into a denouement worthy of supreme respect.

If you do indulge in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do so, I urge those not yet exposed to the delights of audiobooks to try this BBC Audio dramatisation. If any novel was made to be performed, it was this one.

I’ve heard the BBC TV series (different actors) loosely based on Adams’ Dirk Gently series is worth watching also so I’m off to find myself a copy.

“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

BOOK RATING: The Story 5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5

UPDATE: Trust me, the audiobook is far better than either the BBC or Netflix TV Series adaptations.

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Related Reads:

The Stranger Times by C K McDonnell  |  Resistance is Futile by Jenny T Colgan  |

About the Author, Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams was born in 1952 and created The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy phenomenon: radio, novels, TV, computer game, stage adaptation, comic book and bath towel. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published in 1979 and has been a huge success story. His series has sold over 15 million books in the UK, the US and Australia and was also a best seller in German, Swedish and many other languages. Douglas lived with his wife and daughter in California, where he died suddenly in 2001.