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Svlad Cjelli. Popularly known as Dirk, though, again, "popular" was hardly right. Notorious, certainly; sought after, endlessly speculated about, those too were true. But popular? Only in the sense that a serious accident on the motorway might be popular-- everyone slows down to have a good look, but no one will get too close to the flames. Infamous was more like it. Svlad Cjelli, infamously known as Dirk.
He was rounder than the average undergraduate and wore more hats. That is to say, there was just the one hat which he habitually wore, but he wore it with a passion that was rare in one so young. The hat was dark red and round, with a very flat brim, and it appeared to move as if balanced on gimbals, which ensured its perfect horizontality at all times, however its owner moved his head. As a hat it was a remarkable rather than entirely successful piece of personal decoration. It would make an elegant adornment, stylish, shapely and flattering, if the wearer were a small bedside lamp, but not otherwise.
People gravitated around him, drawn in by the stories he denied about himself, but what the source of these stories might be, if not his own denials, was never entirely clear
Richard MacDuff, a gangling computer software developer with a Chesterfield sofa trapped in his stairway, visits his former college mentor, the perennially retired Professor Urban Chronotis, called "Reg" for his title, Regius Professor of Chronology. The two attend the annual Samuel Taylor Coleridge dinner at St Cedd's College where the poet's famous works are read, igniting a series of literary allusions and historical visits redefining civilization as only Adams can concoct it.
Meanwhile, Richard's boss, software company founder Gordon Way, is having problems of his own involving an unplanned out of body experience, similar to those Coleridge is said to have had during his hallucinogen-inspired writing sessions. Rather than "a damsel with a dulcimer," Adams gives us Susan Way, detached sister of Gordon and neglected girlfriend of Richard, with a cello. There is, of course, also an ancient mariner who is tired of being "alone, alone, all all alone." (The "on a wide, wide sea" part is open to debate, though it's not as great a point of contention as the albatross.)
The title character, Dirk Gently (a.k.a. Svlad Cjelli, who also attended St Cedd's prior to the final exam-clairvoyance scandal), spots his acquaintance Richard uncharacteristically breaking and entering and appoints himself to sort out sundry strange occurrences. Prior to this, his holistic detective agency's main objective was searching for the whole cat and attempting to collect whole expenses from the cats' owners. Dirk's forceful personality cements the plot, and allows Adams to merge vastly disparate and improbable elements.