For instance, Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit features dreamer Anne Beddingfield. When her professor father dies, leaving her nearly penniless, Anne agrees to move in with her father’s solicitor and his family while she decides what her next steps in life will be. Anne dreams of adventure, though, and soon finds life with her “adopted” family rather dull. One day, she’s at a tube stop when she witnesses a terrible accident. A man falls onto the tracks and is killed. As his body is being taken away, a paper flutters out of his pocket. Anne picks it up and finds a cryptic message on it. By chance, she discovers that the note refers to a forthcoming voyage of the Kilmorden Castle to Cape Town. On impulse, Anne decides to follow her dream of adventure and buys passage on the ship. She’s soon swept up in a web of international intrigue, stolen jewels, kidnapping and murder. Throughout the story, Anne remains resilient, even though things get very dangerous for her more than once. You could say that it’s in part her dream of adventure that keeps her going.
In Christie’s The Hollow (AKA Murder in Retrospect), we meet Harley Street specialist Dr. John Christow. Christow’s got an all-consuming dream: he wants to cure Ridgeway’s Disease, which is fatal. What’s interesting about his dream is that he isn’t pursuing it for fame or glory. He’s intellectually passionate about finding out what causes the disease and how to cure it. Christow’s passion for his dream is a critical part of his character; in fact, his mistress Henrietta Savernake acknowledges that to Christow, his dream is more important than anything else – including her. Christow’s dreams are ended when he’s fatally shot during a week-end stay at the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. Hercule Poirot is staying at a getaway cottage nearby, and happens to come upon the murder scene because he’s been invited to the Angkatells’ home for lunch that day. He works with Inspector Grange to find out who killed Christow and why. Also staying at the Angkatells’ home is Lucy Angkatell’s younger cousin Midge Hardcastle. She lives a much more working-class life than do her wealthy and privileged relations, and she resents the Angkatells for their obliviousness to the hard realities of daily life. Midge has fond memories of Ainswick, the Angkatell family home, from her youth. In fact, she still dreams of the place and of life there with Edward Angkatell, whom she’s loved as long as she can remember. Although Midge’s love of Edward and of Ainswick aren’t the central core of the plot, they make for an interesting sub-plot and they add a layer of interest to Midge’s character.
Kerrie Shawn is a dreamer who features in Ellery Queen’s The Dragon’s Teeth. She wants to be a Hollywood actress but she hasn’t made it yet. She lives in a run-down apartment with a friend, and is barely making enough money to live. Yet she’s determined to be successful. She tries for every acting job she can, even the smallest “bit part,” and hasn’t given up on what she wants. Kerrie’s life changes when she meets Beau Rummell, Queen’s new detective-agency partner. The agency has been hired by very wealthy eccentric Cadmus Cole to find his only living relations, one of whom is Kerrie Shawn. Queen’s been sidelined by appendicitis, so he sends Rummell to Hollywood in his place. Then, word comes that Cole has died. According to the provisions of his will, Kerrie has to move into Cole’s upstate New York mansion and live there with her long-lost cousin Margo Cole, Cole’s only other relation. Kerrie moves into the mansion, only to be suspected of murder when Margo Cole is shot. Rummell’s fallen in love with Kerrie, and works with Queen to clear her name.
M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Bore features a group of dreamers: people who’ve signed up for writing classes from noted screenwriter John Heppel. When Heppel offers classes to the locals of the Scottish village of Lochdubh, several people are terribly excited that finally, they’ll make their dreams of being published authors come true. On the first night of class, Heppel dashes several people’s dreams by publicly demeaning his students and their work. Heppel’s harshness upsets the students, who are passionate about their hopes. Lochdubh constable Hamish Macbeth tries to warn Heppel not to tread on the locals’ dreams, but to no avail. The students’ anger turns to fury after the second class when Heppel’s barrage of criticism becomes too much. One night later, Heppel is killed. Macbeth is faced with several suspects as he investigates the murder.
There’s a really clear example of dreaming keeping a person strong in Val McDermid’s The Grave Tattoo. In that novel, we meet thirteen-year-old Tenille Cole. She lives in a dilapidated, lower-class block of London council flats called Marshpool Farm Estate. Tenille lives with her Aunt Sharon, who resents being responsible for her, and who in any case is too involved with her series of boyfriends to pay much attention to her niece. Despite her lower-class background and unpleasant living situation, Tenille’s got big dreams. She loves poetry and writing, and dreams of someday being a writer herself. The only person she confides in is her neighbour Jane Gresham, a post-doctoral teaching assistant and Wordsworth scholar with dreams of her own. When one of Aunt Sharon’s “friends” tries to rape Tenille, she turns to Jane for help and before long, she’s caught up in Jane’s search for a missing Wordsworth manuscript.
And then there’s thirteen-year-old Eugene “Huge” Smalls, the protagonist of James W. Fuerst’s Huge. He’s a troubled student who can’t seem to keep himself in school or out of trouble. He dreams of being a famous detective, just like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlow and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. Huge gets his chance when his grandmother offers him ten dollars to find out who defaced the sign at the nursing home where she lives. Huge takes the case eagerly and begins to investigate. His dreams of “cracking the case” help him through being beaten in more than one fight, awkwardness around a girl he’s attracted to, social ineptness and rows with his sister. In the end, Huge finds out who defaced the sign and why – and learns quite a lot about himself in the process.
Riley Adams (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) introduces us to dreamer Mildred Cameron in Delicious and Suspicious. Mildred is an aspiring writer who dreams of becoming famous and well-known. For years she’s been working on and refining a romance novel. So when famous Cooking Channel scout Rebecca Adrian comes to town, Mildred thinks she has her chance to make her dreams come true. She’s introduced to Rebecca at Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, a restaurant Rebecca is scouting as a finalist for the Cooking Channel’s Best Barbecue in Memphis award. Rebecca wants to impress the locals, so she claims to know all sorts of important people. Mildred’s taken in by this façade and asks Rebecca to promote her manuscript to New York publishers. Instead of being helpful, Rebecca ends up humiliating Mildred by insulting her and her writing in public. Mildred is crushed, and actually becomes a suspect when Rebecca Adrian is poisoned. Aunt Pat’s owner Lulu Taylor wants to find out who killed Rebecca Adrian; the victim died shortly after a visit to her restaurant, and there’s a cloud of suspicion on the restaurant and the staff. Lulu doesn’t really think Mildred killed Rebecca Adrian, and she’s re-affirmed in her belief when Mildred confesses that she’s still following her writing dream: she’s going to turn the experience into a mystery novel.
Dreams can be risky, but they can give us strength and motivation. What dreams will you pursue in 2011?
ps. The beautiful little dreamer in the picture is my daughter at about age three.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Huey Lewis’ Once Upon a Time in New York City.