By Douglas Adams
Reviewed by Alan Green
This book starts with a passenger check in-desk at Heathrow blowing up for no real reason and then it starts getting weirder. In the “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” Douglas Adams does for Norse mythology what he famously did for sci-fi in the “Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” series.
Like “Hitch Hiker’s Guide” the comedy in “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” is based on the juxtaposition of the fantastical and the mundane. The gods walk the Earth but like the rest of us they find the stresses of modern life hard to cope with. In fact in turns out that being divine doesn’t get you very far in this day and age. The Viking gods are hopelessly ill equipped for life in the 20th century.
“Tea-Time” sees the return of the eccentric detective Dirk Gently. He first appeared in the novel “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” Don’t worry if you haven’t read about his earlier adventures. Each novel stands alone. In fact apart from featuring Dirk and a couple of other characters this book doesn’t seem to follow on from it’s predecessor in any shape or form. For example Dirk is sceptical about the existence of monsters even though he fought an alien ghost in the previous book. That seems a bit odd to me but never mind.
Despite saving the world in his last adventure Dirk’s business is going through a bit of a quiet patch. To add insult to injury the first client he has had for ages ends up dead in mysterious circumstances. There was no way anybody could have got in or out of the room but someone put the victim’s head on the record player. Was he a smart-alec suicide as the police assume or is something more sinister going on? Was the client really, as he claimed, being stalked by a huge green furry monster with a scythe? What does the hit record “Hot Potato” have to do with anything?
Adam’s main aim is to make us laugh but “Tea-Time” also works as a mystery in a surreal kind of way. It will probably keep you guessing right up until the final dramatic denouncement.
The heroine of the piece is Kate Schecter, a pizza fetishist who gets caught up in the explosion at Heathrow. While doing a bit of amateur snooping she gradually finds herself being dragged into a feud between the gods. The explosion turns out to be the first step on a journey that takes her to the feasting halls of Valhalla. That is quite a journey considering she was only trying to get to Oslo.
Dirk and Kate face the wrath of the gods, a weird goblin like creature, a big green furry monster, an angry eagle, a smarmy lawyer and a coke machine that seems to be following them around. On top of all that Dirk is also locked in a brutal struggle with his cleaning lady over the tricky question of who is going to clean the fridge. Kate has to visit an asylum that has some very strange patients and she can’t find a pizza place that delivers. Even with the help of the I-Ching, the cunning Zen-based navigation technique, and an holistic approach to detective work; it’s still a tough case to crack.
“The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul” is a great title for a book. It is actually a line from one of the novels in the “Hitch Hiker” series, “Life, The Universe and Everything.” Presumably Adams decided that it was such a good phrase that he wanted to recycle it.
In “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” Adams once again holds up his twisted distorting mirror to reality. He shows us a skewed vision of the world, which brings out the humour in the mundane by combining it with the otherworldly. If you loved the “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” then you should enjoy the Dirk Gently books. While they are quite different in some ways they do retain the unique comic perspective on life which made Adams earlier work so popular. If you like off the wall English humour with a fantastical flavour than all of his books are must-reads.