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.