What do you dream of doing? Oh, I don’t mean the ‘What would you do if you won the lottery’ sort of dream. I mean the dream you actually want to make happen. The capacity to dream, and the possibility that we can make our dreams a reality is a part of the human will to carry on in life. It takes hard work and determination (to say nothing of patience) to make one’s dreams happen, but there’s nothing like a dream to keep one interested in life. And because those dreams are such an important part of the human experience, it’s no wonder that we see them so often in crime fiction. Space of course doesn’t permit me to mention every example of a crime-fictional character with dreams, but here are just a few to give you a sense of what I mean.
In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), we meet Susan Banks. Her dream is to open her own beauty salon/spa, and she has both the business acumen and the bold planning skills to make it happen. What she doesn’t have is start-up money. She’s hoping that her uncle Richard Abernethie will stake her, but she’s disappointed when he refuses to do so. Then, Abernethie suddenly dies of what seems at first to be natural causes. The Abernethie family gathers after the funeral for the reading of the will, and that’s when Abernethie’s sister Cora Lansquenet blurts out that her brother was murdered. Everyone hushes her up and in fact, Cora herself retracts what she said. But when she is murdered the next day, family lawyer Mr. Entwhistle suspects that she was right. He asks Hercule Poirot to investigate the matter and Poirot agrees. Now, Susan finds herself a suspect in both deaths…
One of the interesting characters in Val McDermid’s The Grave Tattoo is thirteen-year-old Tenille Cole. She lives in a terrible home situation in a seedy run-down housing block in London. The one bright spot in her life is her love of poetry. She reads poetry whenever she can and dreams of being a poet herself. She’s made a friend in the person of her neighbour Jane Gresham, a Wordsworth scholar who’s trying to make it in the academic world. Gresham gives Tenille books to read and discusses poetry with her. She takes an interest in the girl too, and tries to help her as best she can. Then Gresham learns that an unknown body has been dredged from a bog in her native Lake District. It’s said that the body may be that of Fletcher Christian of H.M.S. Bounty fame. There’d always been rumours that he didn’t die on Pitcairn Island as people had said, but actually made it back to the Lake District. If so, nothing would be more natural than that he would look up his great friend Wordsworth and that Wordsworth might write about Christian’s experiences. If that’s the case it lends credence to the belief Gresham’s always had that Wordsworth left an unfinished manuscript behind when he died. And finding that manuscript would the discovery of a lifetime for Gresham. So she travels back to her home village in the Lake District to see if she can find the manuscript. Unbeknownst to Gresham, Tenille makes her way to the same place after a terrible incident drives her decision to run away from home. That’s how both of them get mixed up in a case of multiple murders and the ongoing search for the manuscript.
Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn is a political scientist and academician. So she puts a great value on an education. That’s part of what makes it so hard when, in Murder at the Mendel, she learns that her daughter Mieka is planning to drop out of university and open her own catering business. It’s what Mieka dreams of doing, but here’s Kilbourn’s first reaction:
‘Opening a catering business isn’t something ordinary people do. It’s something you talk about doing, like writing a novel or living on a Greek island.’
Mieka refuses to be put off though and Kilbourn knows that she can either support her daughter and that dream, or sacrifice their relationship. So she reluctantly stops trying to dissuade Mieka. And the catering business proves to be successful. Mieka has to work very hard and has a lot of learning to do. But she makes her dream happen.
One of the ‘regular’ characters in Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series is Jason Wallace. When the series begins, he’s a fifteen-year-old former junkie who’s only been ‘off the gear’ for a short time. But he’s trying to build a life for himself. When Chapman meets him in Earthly Delights, he doesn’t seem like much of a safe bet as an employee. He’s been living on the streets, he’s somewhat unreliable and he’s not exactly easy to be around. But she agrees to give him a try and starts him off with basic ‘grunt work’ like mopping the bakery floor. He soon proves to be both dependable and skilled. As time goes on in the series, he gets better and better so that Chapman begins to let him take more responsibility. It turns out that one thing he’s particularly good at is the creation of new and different varieties of muffins. In fact, one of Chapman’s nicknames for him is The Muffin Man. Jason has his share of setbacks here and there, but he has a dream of being a good baker and making a life for himself, and he keeps his mind on that goal.
James W. Fuerst’s Eugene ‘Huge’ Smalls has a dream too. In Huge, we learn that he wants to be a detective, just like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. He’s got several hurdles in his way though. For one thing, he’s only twelve years old, and a lot of adults don’t take him seriously. For another, he has trouble getting on with other people. In fact, managing his anger is a very difficult challenge for him. But he’s a smart boy and he is determined in his way. So he eagerly accepts the case when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the elder care home where she lives. Huge gets distracted by a lot of things, including his habit of blaming others for all of his problems. But he doesn’t give up his dream of being a detective and in the end, he finds out the truth about the sign. He also learns a lot about himself.
We all have dreams, even us adults. And keeping those dreams alive is part of what makes life interesting for us. As I say, I’ve only had room here to mention a few examples of how this plays out in crime fiction. Your turn.
On Another Note…
Today (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this) is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech which he made to thousands of people, many of whom were deliberately prevented at the time from pursuing their dreams. His dream, for which he paid with his life, was that all people would have the opportunity to ‘reach for the stars.’ For that, all of us, myself included, owe much to his memory.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from ELO’s Hold on Tight.