Picks and Pans Review: The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul

updated 04/03/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/03/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Douglas Adams

Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, writes a mean title and has a sardonic way with a one-liner, but reading this novel is like eating caramel popcorn or maybe herring in wine sauce. It's best taken in dollops or a sort of sickening feeling sets in, of time briefly enjoyed but essentially ill spent. This book, a sequel to Adams's 1987 novel, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, puts Gently on a case involving a green monster with a scythe, the Norse god Odin and his son Thor and a woman named Kate who is at an airport when there's a mysterious explosion.

Gently is a likable, casual sort of private eye. The adventuresome Kate wanders to, among other places, a mental hospital, where the patients have strange afflictions. One man's problem is that he knows every word Dustin Hoffman is going to say just before Hoffman says it; the man "appeared to be quietly locked in a bitter argument which seemed to touch on the definitions of the words 'points,' 'gross,' 'profits' and 'limo.' " Odin and Thor are on hand because Odin has sold his soul to a British record-company executive in exchange for perpetual care in a hospital.

Adams does not so much weave these plot strands together as crumple them into a ball and stuff them in a box. Nobody is looking for logic in his books, of course, but it all seems a jumble, and he drags some scenes out long past the point of hit-and-run wit. Typical is this one, which describes much more than anyone needs to know about how Thor attacks one of the eagles who keeps showing up in the book: "He rose to his full height on top of the lamppost and swung the hammer faster and faster in a great circle. Suddenly he hurled it directly toward the eagle. In the same instant a bolt of high-voltage electricity erupted from the lamp on which the eagle was sitting, causing it to leap with loud cries wildly into the air. The hammer sailed harmlessly under the lamp, swung up into the air and out over the darkness of the park, while Thor, released of its weight, wobbled and tottered on top of his lamppost, spun round and regained his balance...." This paragraph goes on for another 60 words or so, all of which are as humorless and pointless as the ones that went before. There are many sequences like that, and after 319 pages the Odin-Thor business in particular and the book in general have long since started to seem silly rather than clever. (Simon and Schuster, $17.95)

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