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Dirk is a small-scale con artist whose latest scheme is working as a "Holistic Detective", who believes in the "fundamental interconnectedness of all things" and how that means that anything might prove useful in solving the whole cases of his clients -- which, the way he sees it, means that he can do anything he likes, even take a three-week tropical vacation, and still charge it to the client as an expense. Of course, by Finagle's Law, somehow every mundane little job he starts off working on in each novel is somehow actually connected to the main plot, and he's the one who has to solve everything.
In this novel, while (supposedly) investigating the disappearance of an old woman's cat, Dirk stumbles into a plot by an extraterrestrial ghost to undo his death with a Time Machine. Too bad that would undo the creation of life on Earth! (It all Makes Sense in Context. Even the robot created to be religiously faithful in place of its creators.)
- Absent-Minded Professor: Professor Chronotis
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Dirk's favorite way of getting places he shouldn't be.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Literally. Well, it was Coleridge and Bach... okay, just read the book.
- Beware of Hitch-Hiking Ghosts: The driver of a car is horrified when he sees the ghost of his boss appear in front the car. The ghost, on the other hand, is horrified to see another ghost in the car's passenger seat.
- Chekhov's Armoury: Dirk isn't wrong--everything that happens in these books is ultimately important. The Dirk Gently books embody this trope really because they are all about the interconnectedness of everything. Chekov's Armoury isn't just a device Adams used, it's what he based the whole book on. A poem, a conjuring trick, and a stuck couch in the first few chapters are all linked by the end.
- Expy: Because of the first book's Recycled Script from "Shada", an abandoned Doctor Who episode, Reg is essentially a retired Time Lord with an unusual TARDIS.
- The Fog of Ages: Professor Chronotis suffers from this.
- Genre Busting: DGHDA is described by its author as a "detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic".
- Historical In-Joke: The novel ties together the origins of life on earth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem "Kubla Khan", the extinction of the dodo, the career of Buxtehude, and dozens of other epochal or trivial events into an excellent approximation of a coherent plot.
- Impersonating an Officer: Used by Dirk as part of his Bavarian Fire Drill.
- Irrevocable Message: Which Richard attempts to revoke by breaking into his girlfriend's apartment (while possessed by a ghost). And he ultimately succeeds, for altogether more convoluted reasons ...
- Laser-Guided Karma: Whatever Dirk claims to believe in order to extract cash from gullible people invariably turns out to really be true, but always in such a way that he looks bad, sometimes in such a way that he suffers physical or emotional trauma, and never in such a way that he gets the money.
- Literary Work of Magic: Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poems contain secret messages conveyed to him while he was under the influence of an alien ghost, as part of plan to wipe out the human race.
- Magicians Are Wizards: Reg performs an impossible magic trick to entertain a restless little girl at a formal dinner. Nobody but Dirk realizes that it's genuinely impossible, and he decides to investigate.
- Not So Phony Psychic: When he was in university, Dirk posed as a psychic, was uncannily right, and got arrested for it. He now spends a lot of time insisting to people who were there that he's not psychic. Usually they don't believe him and his reputation often precedes him.
- One Steve Limit: Averted with Gordon's sister Susan and secretary Susan at the office.
- Our Ghosts Are Different
- Oxbridge: Features St. Cedd's College, a fictional college at the real Cambridge University.
- Peek-a-Boo Corpse: A ghost discovers his own corpse in a cupboard. And faints.
- Perpetual Poverty: Dirk never seems to have much money -- a Running Gag in Holistic Detective Agency is his secretary quitting over not getting paid -- and most certainly never gets paid by his clients. He manages to stay in his office, flat, etc, through arranging the situation so that it would be more inconvenient to actually eject him or force him to pay than just let him be and hope that he'll pay some day.
- Phone Call From the Dead: A guy makes a car phone call and starts talking into the answering machine, then gets killed. Just later his ghost tries to communicate by talking through the phone, which is recorded on the answering machine as well.
- Plug N Play Technology: justified
- The Red Stapler: WayForward Technologies became the name of a real company that makes video games. And indeed, it is named for its founder, Voldi Way.
- Refusal of the Call: See Phony Psychic, above.
- Religious Robot: Electric Monks are robots specifically designed to believe in stuff, which frees up its creator race for other things. The one that appears in the book goes wrong though, and starts to believe in too much.
The Electric Monk was a labour-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.
- Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: More prevalent here than usual; you have to lead a very sheltered life to never notice little discrepancies between your memories and reality.
- Rubber Band History: Samuel Taylor Coleridge finished writing "Kubla Khan" and nobody's ever heard of Johann Sebastian Bach's music. By the end of the novel, both of these have become our familiar versions of history. There's also a cautionary anecdote about inadvertant time travel resulting in the extinction of the dodo.
- San Dimas Time: There's a telephone in the time machine, which can be used to straightforwardly communicate with the present. (On the other hand, there's a sequence where a character goes on a six-week trip into the past, and returns moments after he left.)
- Steven Ulysses Perhero: Albert Ross
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Deliberately invoked by Dirk at university. By carefully denying the most extraordinary things, he convinces his fellow students that he's a psychic, mystic, telepathic, clairvoyant, psychosassic, vampire bat.
What did "psychosassic" mean?
It was his own word and he vigorously denied it meant anything at all.
- Talking in Your Sleep: How Dirk's supposed psychic powers manifested.
- This Is a Work of Fiction: Holistic Detective Agency disclaims any resemblance to real people "living, dead, or wandering the night in ghostly torment".
- Time Travel Tropes
- Trigger Phrase: "my maiden aunt from Winnipeg"
- Viewers Are Geniuses
- What Have We Ear?: One of the conjuring tricks Reg does.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Or, technically, be dead and floating around as a ghost forever.