The Beckoning Dream (1956) by Evelyn Berckman

This is my latest review based on a Xavier recommendation and as with every other Xavier recommendation I have had, you can rely on it to be obscure, unconventional and also rather good.

A lot happens in the opening chapter of the story, though principally it is to view the final minutes of Archibald Gedney’s life, at a very exclusive and expensive nursing home. In these final minutes Archibald is ruminating over the dream which has dogged him for twelve years and has ultimately withered his body through the strain of it all. It is this dream which gives the reader the first hint that Archie has done something to feel guilty about, something he did with his three other siblings, though it is Myra who he abhors and fears the most, the ring leader of the group. Yet his death is not the end of the dream, nor the end of the crime they committed. Though if you are predicting some young female protagonist who is determined to see justice down then you will be sadly mistaken, as instead we are faced with Connie Walworth, Myra’s daughter in law. Now Connie is stony broke and is none too impressed that Archibald left her nothing in his will. With a matter of dollars left and still smarting from the acid remarks of her mother in law who is rolling in money, Connie chances upon Archie’s most recent diary, the contents of which gives her enough hints that there might be something Myra would like to keep quiet…

Overall Thoughts

I can only really begin with Connie, as she is the lynchpin of the story. To have such an un-redeeming anti-heroine as the lead character, makes this both a very forward looking text, but also a text which looks backwards as I would say Connie can be nicely paralleled with Becky Sharp, though Connie is far far nastier. Both though are not keen to work for their living and I think Connie’s personality is summed up well here:

‘suffered from no lack of intelligence […] her other traits were a pathological laziness, love of luxury and a fixed conviction that the cream of existence was hers by right.’

Oh and if you are still undecided about her, one of her earliest actions is to run over a chipmunk! So yes suffice to say there is no sympathy coming Connie’s way, though her target for blackmail is not one to pity much either.

However what develops and expands this plot are the characters of Dr Markham and Ann, Myra’s daughter, who soon become roped into things, equally providing two sides of a poisonous romantic triangle. Looking at this story in terms of the big picture I found it quite novel to have a protagonist investigating a cold case, not for justice or truth, but for mercenary motives. This book is equally the most unusual variation on the inverted mystery I have seen. Though having dropped the dreaded I. M. term I would say that the reader nor even many of the characters know fully what has happened and none of them certainly know what will happen, as Berckman’s plot twists and turns in unexpected directions. The ending of course yields irony that Anthony Berkeley would have been proud of and it is a pity that he never reviewed this one.

Consequently it is great to be able to say that this undeservedly not well known book is easy to obtain as there are a number of reasonably priced second hand copies of it online.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

8 comments

  1. Yeah, I did it again! 🙂

    This is one I was very eager to know your opinion about, as it is certainly one of my oddest picks – which is saying a lot, considering how odd they tend to be. (By the way, I like the way you describe my recommendations, especially of course the “rather good” part. 😉 )

    I loved the book for all the reasons that you stated, but Connie in my opinion is what makes it so memorable. As you know I like books that are experimental and I found this unusual “sleuth” an interesting, and ultimately successful, experiment – a risky bet on Berckman’s part that she pulled off admirably. Rarely before or since for that matter had I met such a nasty-and-proud character, let alone cast as the detective. (The poor chipmunk’s demise, told in quite graphic detail for the time, has stayed with me over the years.) I must admit I hadn’t made the Becky Sharp connection, probably because I hadn’t read Vanity Fair at the time – reading obscure mysteries is a time-consuming activity! – but I find it quite apt though as you say Connie is a far nastier character.

    Regarding the book’s obscurity, it is more a consequence of times and fashions changing than of it having gone unnoticed from the start. Berckman was a noted writer in her day, though this is not one of her most famous works – undeservingly indeed. I read only a few of hers outside this one, and – ha ha, you KNEW I was about to recommend you another one! – “The Blind Villain” is almost as good as The Beckoning Dream and worth pursueing, not that you’ll have to go very far as cheap copies can be found at Bezos’s. Like many of her contemporaries Berckman seems to have had no use for a series character, which might account for her and her work falling through the cracks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sold! Or rather bought. Interesting that The Blind Villain adopts the similar theme of money driving the criminal behaviour, though perhaps the female lead may be more likeable and less keen on running over small furry animals. The graphic detail of it stayed with me too. Again partially because I’ve not seen it in earlier fiction before.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.