Kate Schechter is running late for her flight from London to Oslo when her check-in desk at Heathrow erupts in a ball of flame. As Kate recovers from her injuries in hospital she briefly encounters the strange Nordic man who had held her up in the queue, miraculously unharmed despite being at the centre of the blast. Meanwhile Dirk Gently, holistic detective, sleeps in and misses an early appointment with his new client, a man convinced a green-eyed monster with a scythe is coming to collect on a contract - a man who has been decapitated in a locked room...
This was a quicker read than the first Dirk Gently book, possibly because there are fewer plot threads. There's one main storyline, though just like in the original, they don't all get resolved and combined until a handful of pages from the end.
Let's be clear: I like this book. It's fun. But it feels unfinished; there's a plot in here, yes, but there's not really a story with a beginning middle and end. Ideas are introduced and then forgotten about: early on Dirk discovers his deceased client has a young boy living in his attic, who breaks Dirk's nose, but we never find out any more about the boy. He discovers a vital clue - an envelope - at the same time, and then for no particular reason waits for most of the book to open it. Then, too, there aren't many clues as to the nature of some of the mysterious objects encountered; they're explained at the end, but there's no way to determine what they are by yourself beforehand. The main antagonists are almost throwaway characters, given exactly one scene of any substance and then dispatched (again in the last few pages) without ceremony.
Dirk at least shows up early this time out, and since he's actively investigating the events, has a much more active role than in the previous book. He's almost as unlikeable, but much more relatable; his tricks and misdirections much more commonplace.
Thankfully we have Kate Schechter. She's an interesting character, a good example of Adams' ability to write interesting women without resorting to cliché; she's likeable, has quirks we can get a handle on, and frankly investigates things in a much more satisfying manner than the actual detective in the book. She doesn't have any other women to talk to (all of Adams' books fail the Bechdel Test for the same reason), but at least she doesn't fall in love with either of the male leads: she is wary of Dirk, and though is intrigued by Thor (the actual god, and the man at the check-in desk) she's never taken in by his charms.
But even Kate is abandoned once her part in driving the narrative is done, though that part seems a little arbitrary. It's never clear why Thor seeks her out, and he leaves her behind when he rushes off tofinally confront his father Odin - but then that doesn't really pan out either. I said the book doesn't have a beginning middle and end; what it has is a beginning, which is good, a middle, which is good, and then an anticlimax, which technically explains most of what's been going on, but leaves you unsatisfied.
The Dirk Gently books are a stab from Adams at writing a more traditional narrative, and remain laced with his great humour and clever ideas, but really they're probably the best evidence that as a novelist, he made a great writer of non-fiction. I love his work dearly, but I can't honestly say this is a great novel; it's very funny, and has great ideas, and I'll read it again some day and enjoy it, but the detecting is too slow, the resolution too sudden, and the bits left out too annoying for it to be on top of anyone's reading list.
But I still miss you, Douglas. I would love to know what you'd have written next. Well, aside from Mostly Harmless and (possibly) The Salmon of Doubt, I mean.