Two of my favorite literary series have very little in common. The numerous adventures of Sherlock Holmes are especially notable for the incredible feats of logic performed by the consulting detective, while The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an absurdist sci-fi tale filled with fish that can translate any language and a restaurant where you can literally watch the universe end. Luckily for me, there is a character that combines the very best aspects of both: Dirk Gently, the holistic detective.
Dirk Gently works on the premise that, in most cases, the solution to a case is the impossible
Written by the late Douglas Adams, the same author who brought us the universe of the Hitchhiker's Guide, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is a bizarre whodunit with ample doses of sci-fi weirdness. It, and the follow-up The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, follow the titular Gently, a detective with what can only be described as unusual methods. Whereas Holmes famously said that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth," Gently works on a different premise — in most cases the solution is the impossible.
And his first adventure is full of impossible things. When a couch is moved up a staircase, for instance, not only does it get impossibly stuck, but according to some complex computer calculations, it was actually impossible for it to have arrived in that position in the first place. There's time travel, and ghosts, and a man who made a fortune selling software that turns a company's financial results into music. And then there's the Electric Monk. As Adams explains:
The Electric Monk was a labor-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.Unfortunately, the Monk in the book is faulty — at one point it starts to believe that everything in the world is the exact same shade of pink. Like the Hitchhiker's Guide books, Gently's adventures are essentially a collection of Adams' crazy, often disparate ideas. The first book jumps from one seemingly unconnected thing to the next quickly, and it takes several chapters before Dirk shows up, much less even gets mentioned.
Adams ties ridiculously inventive ideas together in a way that's compelling
But Adams' talent was not only in coming up with ridiculously inventive ideas, but also in managing to tie them together in a way that's compelling. You'll soon accept the fact that Gently could predict the questions on a university exam completely by accident, and, like the Electric Monk, you may even start to "believe things they'd have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City."