Adams’ drew on his Doctor Who stories City of Death and the unfilmed Shada when conceiving the story, and there’s a lot of the Doctor in the character of Dirk Gently. He’s a brilliant eccentric, not bound by rules or social convention, solving mysteries with an ever-present companion. However, the Doctor’s motivation is to do good, whereas Gently is more ‘chaotic neutral’, to coin a phrase. His motivation seems to be more to put his brainpower to use than anything altruistic per se. This is in keeping with the absurdist themes in Adams’ other works, where the characters are trying to just survive and make sense of a fundamentally nonsensical universe.
The imagination and ideas at play here are as creative as Adams usually is. For example, the book features an Electric Monk, which is a robot that’s been made to believe things, no matter how ridiculous (at one point, it believes that everything in the world is pink). There is also a sofa stuck in a stairway that nobody can remove because the position it’s stuck in is impossible. At first it seems as though Adams is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but as the book goes on it becomes clear that everything is, in fact, connected, in a demonstration of Dirk Gently’s hypothesis. The tricky business of tying everything together is managed with skill, and is a demonstration of Adams’ talents as a writer.
Adams completed a second book in the series, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, but sadly died before he could finish the third. What he wrote of The Salmon of Doubt is collected with the book of the same name, along with other writings. The Dirk Gently books have never reached the level of fame as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but they deserve as much recognition nonetheless. For fans of his style, it’s a must-read, and for Douglas Adams newcomers, there’s a lot to enjoy if you like sci-fi trappings and smart, perceptive comedy. While it’s a shame the series was never finished, there’s plenty to enjoy nonetheless.
Review by Charlie Alcock