The Man Whose Dreams Came True (1968) by Julian Symons

It has been quite a while since I have read a novel by Symons and even then I have only read the one, A Three Pipe Problem (1975). I am more familiar with Symons’ Bloody Murder (1972), an important history of detective fiction, though I don’t agree with all of Symons’ ideas.

The Man Who Dreams Came True
The funniest part of the book

I have to be honest I didn’t make it to the end of this book. A review on the back of the book indicates that at some point in the book the protagonist, Anthony Scott-Williams ends up in a ‘murder conspiracy’ which ‘beautifully back-fires.’ All I can say is that by the half way mark this hasn’t happened and that the first half did not make me interested in getting to that point. Great reads, especially in crime fiction can have brilliant destinations, ending in a shocking and surprising way. But great reads regardless of genre are also about the journey the story takes you on and in the case of this novel the journey is nothing to write home about. The book opens reasonably well with Anthony coming across as version of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, with both characters having a strong desire for money and a luxurious lifestyle and above all getting these things without conventional hard work and elbow grease. Although with Tom I think there is more going on in his character makeup than just greed, which I think makes up the majority of Anthony’s personality and colours his actions. The Man Whose Dreams Came True (1968) seems to be quite episodic in nature, watching Anthony move from place to place, job to job etc. and unlike Tom, there is no meteoric rise in Anthony’s success rates, which may be due to bad luck or the fact that Tom is more intelligent. Where I left the story was when Anthony is once more in an ill-advised relationship and is wondering how he will pay off his gambling debts. My exit from the book came about as quite frankly I was just bored  with the characters, the milieu and the pace and I had lost any interest in the promised and no doubt forthcoming narrative twists centring on a murder conspiracy. Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1955) is by no means a favourite read of mine but in reading Symons’ book, which I think does borrow from Highsmith’s earlier novel, I came to see the stronger writing skills Highsmith had. In particular I felt Highsmith’s characterisation skills were far superior, especially with her protagonist, Tom Ripley and the way he attempts to interact with others. In contrast character psychology is not really a key feature of Symons’ work and it is hard to take an interest in or care about Anthony. Symons’ tries to make Anthony a more complex character by bringing in information about his childhood and upbringing, but in reality these passages are dull and kill the pace of the book. Moreover, rather than adding complexity to Anthony as a character, they just make him feel more two dimensional and predictable.

So apologies for the truncated review. I’d be interested to know of other people’s experiences with Symons’ work. Are there some really good ones out there? Or perhaps it is just the case that Symons is just not for me.


  1. Never liked Symons either. My last attempt of trying to read one of his books, it was “The Name Of Annabel Lee”, ended with me abandoning the novel about 30 pages in. I usually try to make it to page 50 before I give up on a book, but in this case I felt it would’ve been a waste of time.

    However earlier this year I read “Murder, Murder!” – a short story collection featuring his amateur sleuth Francis Quarles which I thought was charming old-fashioned fun. Nothing spectacular just good traditional golden age style detecting. So, i think the Quarles books, I believe he features in several collections, are worth a look.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read THE THIRTY-FIRST OF FEBRUARY when I was a teen because it was raved about in Murder Ink. I thought it dull and very overrated. A man who gets away with a murder comes into work every day to see his desk calendar (one of those made of numbers and words on blocks that the user turns each day) turned to the day he committed his crime. He slowly loses his mind. The surprise twist is hard to swallow. It’s not all that exciting in the Alfred Hitchcock TV adaptation either, IMO. I’ve read THREE PIPE PROBLEM and its sequel THE KENTISH MANOR MURDERS, and prefer the first over the second. Can’t remember anything else by Symons I may have read. I’m sure I read more when I was a teen because our library in my hometown had a pile of Symons’ books. THE BLACKHEATH POISONINGS is supposed to be one of his better books, a Victorian era mystery inspired by an actual murder case.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Blackheath Poisonings one sounds intriguing as I wasn’t aware he had done a historical mystery. Though it seems he is not on the whole a writer I should rush and out buy. Thanks for your tips.


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