I’m Going to Hit the Big Time*

When you were a child, and people asked what you wanted to do when you grew up, what did you dream of doing? Flying planes? Writing the Great Novel? Owning a ranch? Being a world-famous chef? Don’t tell anyone, please, but when I was young, I wanted to be a dancer. In case you were wondering, that didn’t happen for me…

Those dreams (e.g. ‘You know, I always wanted to…’) are an important part of what motivates people, even if they end up doing something completely different with their lives. They’re part of our personalities, in a way. So it’s not surprising to find crime-fictional characters who’ve had their dreams (whether or not they’ve happened).

For example, Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit introduces us to Anne Bedingfield. She’s always dreamed of being an adventurer, But she’s grown up with a staid professor father (and if you think academics earn a lot of money, let me enlighten you…). So she’s never had the chance to follow her dream. Then, her father dies, and Ann no longer feels bound to stay in London. She has very little money, but she still wants adventure. She’s drawn into much more than she’d bargained for when she sees a man fall (or get pushed) onto a train track. A note falls out of the dead man’s pocket, and it ends up in Anne’s possession. At first it looks like some sort of code, but she works out that it refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she buys a ticket on the boat, and gets drawn into a case of international intrigue, stolen jewels, and murder.

Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library series features Israel Armstrong. He has always wanted to work in a library, and has dreamed of being the librarian for a major university, or even the British Library. But as the series begins (with The Case of the Missing Books), he is working in a small bookshop. The he hears of an opportunity to work as a librarian for the Tumdrum and District library in Ireland. Armstrong knows it’s not a prestige position, but for him, it’s a step in the right direction. He takes the job and travels to Ireland, where he soon finds that the job isn’t anything like what he had imagined. He’s been hired to drive the mobile library, a broken-down bus that serves remote library patrons. It’s not the life he dreamed of, but as the series goes on, he gets to know the local people, and makes a life there.

In James W. Fuerst’s Huge, we meet twelve-year-old Eugene ‘Huge’ Smalls. He’s an ordinary sort of boy growing up in an ordinary sort of worn-out, small New Jersey town. Huge has trouble with school; he’s extremely bright, but he doesn’t do well with other people, and has no desire to please his teachers. But Huge has a big dream. He wants to be a detective, just like Sam Spade. He gets a chance at his dream when his grandmother hires him to find out who defaced the sign at the elder care home where she lives. It’s not a big, famous case, but it’s a start. Huge begins to look for clues and identify suspects. In the process, he learns some things about himself – and he finds out who’s behind the vandalism.

Max Kinnings’ Baptism is the story of London train driver George Wakeham. He’s always wanted to do something creative with his life. He’s played with a band, and tried to write, but has never really been able to follow that dream. Now, he lives with his wife and children, and has a stable, if not very exciting, life. It’s not the one he imagined for himself, but it’s a solid life. Then one morning, three people break into his home and take his wife and children hostage. They give Wakeham a mobile ‘phone and tell him that they will keep in contact with him. He will have to do exactly what he’s told if his family is to survive. For a start, the hostage-takers tell him to go to work as usual and get aboard his train. He does so, and, when he’s instructed, stops the train halfway through a tunnel. At first, he’s not sure what the hostage-takers want, but it soon becomes frighteningly clear. Now, he’s going to have find some way to stay alive and ensure his passengers’ safety if he can.

Angela Makholwa’s Red Ink features Johannesburg publicist Lucy Khambule. She’s always wanted to write a book, but that’s not the direction her life has taken. Then, she gets a call from Napoleon Dingiswayo, who’s in a maximum-security prison for a series of horrific murders. She had written to Dingiswayo once, when she worked as a journalist, and he kept her contact information. Now, he wants her to write a book about him. This is exactly the sort of thing she has always wanted to do, so she sees this as a chance to make a dream happen. It doesn’t turn out that way, though. When the two begin their work together, violent things begin to happen. Dingiswayo isn’t responsible, since he’s in prison. So who is? And what does that mean for the other murders – the ones that put Napoleon Dingiswayo behind bars? The whole case will now have to be re-examined, and that could prove fatal.

Many of us have something we’ve always dreamed of doing or being. Those things fire up our imaginations, and a few people actually live out those dreams. But even for those who don’t, ‘I’ve always wanted to…’ can be alluring.

 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul Rodgers’ Shooting Star, made famous by Bad Company.

Published by Margot Kinberg

I'm a mystery novelist and professor who loves to read, write, and talk about crime fiction.

14 thoughts on “I’m Going to Hit the Big Time*

  1. I always wanted to rule the world. I haven’t given up all hope yet… bwahahaaa!! 😉 I remember being surprised to discover that way back in the first Poirot mystery, Hastings reveals that he wanted to be a detective. I’d completely forgotten that, and I don’t think he ever mentioned it again?

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    1. You know what, FictionFan? I don’t think he ever did bring it up. That’s really interesting. Perhaps it’s that he starts to see just what detectives actually do as he starts to work with Poirot. That’s an astute observation! And if you ask me, I think you might make a great ruler! And much more sensible than some rulers who are out there. I can certainly see you in that role – so long as your feline overseers would permit it… 😉

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    2. You know what, FictionFan? I don’t think he ever did bring it up. That’s really interesting. Perhaps it’s that he starts to see just what detectives actually do as he starts to work with Poirot. That’s an astute observation! And if you ask me, I think you might make a great ruler! And much more sensible than some rulers who are out there. I can certainly see you in that role – so long as your feline overseers would permit it… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always wanted to be a vet. Then I learned that sometimes they need to hurt an animal to help them. Recently, I’ve given a lot of thought to volunteering at a bird rehabber in my “spare time.” Haha. What’s that?

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    1. Oh, that’s such a great idea if you can do it, Sue! Volunteering like that nourishes your soul, especially if you have a particular closeness to animals. Matter of fact, it was volunteering at our (then) local animal shelter that introduced my daughter to the wonderful world of dogs. She learned a lot about them.

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      1. Aww, I bet you’re an awesome mom. Is that how Indy and Mr. Metoo landed at your house?

        I’ve volunteered at animal shelters, but had to stop before I took all the animals home. At a rehabber at least I’d know they’re meant to live free. Seems safer for me. 😉

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      2. You’d have to ask my daughter about my mom skills, Sue, but I think we both benefited from volunteering at the shelter. Actually our first two dogs came from the Illinois shelter where we volunteered when we lived there. Indy and Metoo came from another shelter, not far from where we live now. And I know just what you mean about wanting to take all the dogs home. That was hard for us, too!

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    2. Oh, that’s such a great idea if you can do it, Sue! Volunteering like that nourishes your soul, especially if you have a particular closeness to animals. Matter of fact, it was volunteering at our (then) local animal shelter that introduced my daughter to the wonderful world of dogs. She learned a lot about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In Dorothy L Sayers’ The Nine Tailors a young woman called Hilary tells Lord Peter Wimsey that she wants to be a writer when she grows up. They have an interesting chat about what kind of books she would like to write and what are her chances of succeeding. It;s not particularly relevant to the plot, and I always wondered if it represented DLS herself and the dreams and ambitions of her younger self…

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    1. Oh, yes, I remember that conversation, Moira! Thanks for reminding me! It’s very interesting to think about what might have been going on in Sayers’ mind as she wrote Hilary’s character. She has a certain ambition, and I’ve always wondered whether she becomes a writer, and what she writes. I could see it…

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    1. No, they didn’t, Elizabeth! I like those novels a lot for several reasons, not the least of which is the way Sansom evokes rural Ireland. It’s good to hear you enjoyed the book, too.

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    1. I think it’s a solid series, Col, with some freshness about it. It’s not your typical series, and I give Sansom credit for that.

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