I was inspired to read this again by the upcoming BBC series, and also recently re-reading the first Hitchhikers novel for the first time in years. On a recent trip to visit my parents I retrieved my 1989 paperback edition from my grandmother's shed, along with a bunch of other stuff I intend to get around to re-reading, and all my various editions of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. (At last count, I own five (soon to be six) of the first novel, three of the second and third, and two of the last two. Add an extra if you count the first volume of the terrible comic book adaptation; I don't.) I first read this book around the age of 10, and I was a bit young to take it all in properly, so it was a great pleasure to revisit.
Things I noticed this time around:
- The plot is much more coherent that I recall, though a few bits - notably the electric monk and the murder of Gordon Way - seem a little left in the cold compared to the main narrative. The main bits are still clearly cribbed from two of Adams' Doctor Who scripts - mostly City of Death, with a bit of Shada thrown in for flavour - but it's really just the skeleton that's been robbed.
- Dirk himself isn't mentioned until Chapter Six, where we get Richard's version of his backstory; we don't encounter him at all until Chapter Fourteen, when he's a voice on a telephone; and we don't meet him in person until Chapter Sixteen. Once he arrives, however, he is the force that propels us to the conclusion, though frankly it's hard to get a handle on him and Richard is the real protagonist, inasmuch as the book has one. Dirk's fun, but it's hard to imagine him being the main character; I'll have to re-read The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul to remember how he fares there.
- While there are some great funny lines in here, the book is remarkably serious; this is much less frivolous than Hitchhikers. Whole passages are amusing but grim, or amusing but poignant, and the greater grounding in reality gives the characters more weight. It's not just Arthur Dent rattling about reacting to an insane universe; there are only two truly eccentric characters, and everyone else is real and flawed.
- The conclusion feels...rushed. Even knowing the basics of it, it seems half-finished, and I was amazed to find myself 20 pages from the end before a climax. And indeed, the conclusion seems to skip the climax entirely, going from crisis to having tea after the resolution in the space of a paragraph or two. Indeed, how the protagonists save the day is merely hinted at; the specifics are not revealed. It's a terrible way to end an otherwise excellent book.
What kind of tie would you wear if you were a private detective? Presumably it would have to be exactly the sort of tie that people wouldn't expect private detectives to wear. Imagine having to sort out a problem like that when you'd just got up.