This month I binged my way through the BBC series, DIRK GENTLY, but I originally encountered Mr. Gently back in 1987 when he appeared in Douglas Adams‘ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency novel. The BBC series starred Stephen Mangan in the title role in 2010 and 2012.
Dirk is a holistic detective. He takes quantum theories that concern subatomic particles and applies it to our world. Like Dirk, I do believe in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I don’t use that to solve crime, so I rely on Dirk to do that for me.
Dirk was born Svlad Cjelli (AKA Dirk Cjelli). In the books, he is rather pudgy man and typically wears an old brown suit, red checked shirt with a green striped tie, with a long leather coat, red hat and thick metal-rimmed spectacles.
Dirk is always in need of money and in need of clients. He is expensive to hire because his expense accounts include everything, since everything is connected to solving the case – from fish and chips to a few weeks in the Bahamas. However, you can’t say that he rips off his clients because they never seem to pay him.
As anyone who has read or heard about Douglas Adams’ more famous series, the Hitchhiker’s Guides, (which have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide), the Dirk stories are half serious, half humorous.
Dirk’s office at 33a Peckender St. N1 London is probably messier than Sherlock Holmes’ lodgings at 221b Baker Street in that city. The two detectives do have some things in common, though I would guess they are also completely opposite.
Besides Dirk, the novels feature his useless (and unpaid) secretary Janice Pearce and Sergeant Gilks. Gilks is like Holme’s Lestrade and Dirk’s version of Dr. Watson is Richard Macduff.
I have read or watched most of the many versions of Sherlock Holmes available. Most recently, my wife and I watched the most recent interpretation of a modern-day Sherlock (BBC) starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
Back in his college days at Cambridge University (St. Cedd’s College), Dirk discovered he was psychic. He was able to know exam questions before exams. This led to some selling of exam questions and then to Dirk’s expulsion. Dirk doesn’t actually believe in psychic abilities and insists that he has a “depressingly accurate knack for making wild assumptions”.
The Dirk Gently novels evolved from two Doctor Who serials written by Adams. I have never fallen into the Dr. Who wormhole, though I have watched it on and off. Adams write an episode, “City of Death,” about an alien who tries to change history and erase humanity from existence.
The other cancelled serial, “Shada,” featured a Cambridge professor called Chronotis who is hundreds of years old and has been working at the college for centuries. Chronotis is a Time Lord, and his time machine is an early model TARDIS which is a trademark elements from Doctor Who.
I would guess that some readers would have problems with the novels because of their fragmented and shifting points of view. Events are out of order, or seem to be out of order.
In Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, MacDuff goes to a dinner at his old college and sees his former tutor, Prof. Chronotis, perform an inexplicable magic trick. Later, the two of them discover a horse in the Professor’s lodgings, which is unable to explain. Back home, Macduff finds himself doing things that are out of character, which causes Dirk to intervene and solve the mystery. Of course, MacDuff didn’t realize there was mystery.
My attraction to the world of Dirk is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I really do agree with Gently that many things we encounter each day seem trivial and superfluous, but turn out to be important to our lives later.
It may seem incongruous that I believe that there are few, if any, “accidents” but I also don’t believe things are predetermined.
Though Adams does not go deeply into the science behind Dirk’s approach to detective work, it alludes to chaos theory, holism, quantum mechanics and the phenomena of non-locality.
When Macduff’s becomes erratic, Dirk brings in the concept of Schrödinger’s Cat. Yes, Adams uses these complicated concepts in ways they were never intended to be used. I find that thought-provoking.
The Dirk Gently series only amounts to two and a half novels. First is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987), followed by The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988). Douglas Adams was working on a third Dirk Gently novel, The Salmon of Doubt, at his untimely death. Adams died of a heart attack on 11 May 2001, aged 49, after resting from his regular workout at a private gym. He had unknowingly suffered a gradual narrowing of his coronary arteries. The first ten chapters of this novel, assembled from various drafts following Adams’ death, together with a memo suggesting further plot points, appeared as The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time which was published posthumously.