Book Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Audiobook Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
Book Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars
Audiobook Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Bottom Line: The Dirk Gently books have their moments, but I wouldn't count them as sci fi classics.
With BBC America’s Dirk Gently series debuting this weekend, it is worth looking at the two books written by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Creator Douglas Adams that feature that rather odd detective. When Mr. Gently investigates a case, he works upon the assumption of the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” rather than just trying to uncover clues like your more typical detective. In the first book, Gently stumbles upon a case that involves a ghost, four-million year old aliens, an electric monk, and a time traveling house (among other things). In the second book, Gently finds himself investigating a case that involves the recording industry, Norse gods, a rather irritated eagle, and a malicious refrigerator. Needless to see, as with Adams’ Hitchhiker books, the plot itself is not important, that just carries the stories from one set of absurdities to the next.
I had previously read all of Adams’ Hitchhiker books, but for some reason never got around to the Dirk Gently tales. I decided to try them out on audiobook and found them enjoyable enough, but definitely not as good as the best of Hitchhiker series (which is essentially the first two books). The Dirk Gently novels have the frenetic pace that you expect from Adams and plenty of his witty observations and quirky commentaries thrown in for good measure. But I consider these very much like the later entries in the Hitchhiker series in that they may induce a smile or a chuckle from time to time, but don’t quite rise up to the classic status of the first two books. The Dirk Gently series can be entertaining at times, and the detective is an interesting enough Doctor-Who-Meets-New-Age-Sherlock-Homes type of character, but I never felt that Adams got the best out of these stories as he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to be clever at times. Others absolutely love these stories, though, so perhaps it is just a matter of taste. Interestingly, Adams’ treatment of the Norse gods in the second book reminded me very much of what Neal Gaiman later did with mythological characters in American Gods. I don’t believe he has cited Douglas Adams as a definite influence, but you can see the similarities.
BBC America has a television adaptation of the character on the way that bows on Saturday October 22nd, and knowing about that inspired me to finally read the books. The TV series looks pretty good from the trailers and maybe it will help me appreciate the books more (though I don’t believe it follows them too closely). Fortunately, both books are a quick read, so if you are not quite as engrossed by them like I was, they still go by pretty quickly. Douglas Adams fans should definitely check them out, just understand that these are closer to his later Hitchhiker books than his first two.
As for the audiobook versions, I encountered them two different ways. For the first book I listened to the version narrated by Adams himself. Now I typically say that writers should stick with their craft and leave the narrating to the professionals, but thought that Adams might be an exception like Harlan Ellison or Neil Gaiman. However, Adams delivered a rather straightforward reading that failed to highlight the humorous tone of the book. I found myself longing for the voice of Simon Jones (who played the part of voice of the guide in the Hitchhiker radio series) because I was sure he could bring more life to the material. For the second book, I elected the full radio dramatization because I thought it would do a better job of the comic tone of the stores. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul was definitely the better of the two audio adaptations and improved on the source material in my opinion. The dramatization is also available for the first book and that is the way I recommend checking it out. Adams got his start with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in radio and that has always been the best way to experience his sci fi comedies.