Not your average P.I.

There used to be a series called Rock family trees in which the connections between rock bands were traced. At the opening of each show an awe-inspiring family tree was shown, probably if you tried hard enough you'd find that every big name group that had ever had a change of band member was connected to every other one. I sort of had this feeling when I started reading Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently books (Dirk Gently's holistic detective agency and The long dark teatime of the soul). I've loved Hitchikers for years, and thoroughly enjoyed the now sadly defunct BBC adaptation of the Dirk Gently books, so was eager to read them too.

Dirk Gently is a private eye, but not your average PI. He believes in the interconnectedness of everything - never mind a butterfly flapping its wings in Bolivia causing a typhoon in the Pacific, the delay of a plane to Oslo in Dirk Gently's world could unleash the rage of an allegedly non-existent Norse deity. The books are fun, but they're not Hitchikers. They do have a weird internal logic to them, but they lack the conviction and comedy and brilliantly structured universe of Adams' better known series. I often found the first book very confusing as it flipped from universe to universe - is this a different universe, or a parallel world or ....what the heck is going on? So I enjoyed them, but wouldn't necessarily want to revisit them.

However what is completely undeniable about them is their Rock Family Treeness - they are enormously influential, and their own influences are also clear, not least the previously reviewed Canticle for Leibowitz and M.R. James' short story Casting the runes (filmed as the British classic horror film Night of the demon). As far as who they've influenced is concerned - Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series is a clear contender - a pet dodo even makes the leap from near-extinct being, with Christopher Brookmyre adapting the detective story format into a surreal story in a similar fashion, there are even moments that I felt were pure Harry Potter. Fforde and Brookmyre both do a much better job of it than Douglas Adams however, they really run with the formula in a way that's oddly lacking with Dirk Gently. Not that I think that this necessarily matters, whether you think they're fabulous or not Dirk Gently has probably had more influence on novelists than the much better received and written Hitchikers. Love them or loathe them, they're seminal.


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