Category Archives: Paddy Richardson

Say the Word and I Will Rescue You*

In Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings meet Magdala ‘Nick’ Buckley. A short conversation is enough to suggest to Poirot that she may be in danger for her life. And he finds a piece of evidence that strengthens that conviction. That sense of coming to her rescue, if you will, gets Hastings and Poirot involved in her life. In fact, Poirot warns Nick to be careful, and urges her to have someone stay with her. She obliges by inviting her cousin for a visit. One night, Nick hosts a dinner party, where the guests will watch a display of fireworks afterwards. Poirot and Hastings are invited, so they’re on the scene when Nick’s cousin (who happens to be wearing one of Nick’s shawls) is shot. Now more convinced than ever that Nick’s at risk, Poirot takes further steps to try to protect her. At the same time, he and Hastings work to find out who shot Nick’s cousin.

Poirot is by no means the only sleuth who gets drawn into a case because someone needs what I’ll call rescuing. It’s a natural human reaction to want to help someone who’s in trouble, and it’s a useful tool for an author to draw a sleuth into a case, especially a sleuth who’s not a professional detective. So, it’s little wonder we see this plot point in a lot of crime fiction.

Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe feels a similar sense of protectiveness in The Big Sleep. In that story, he’s hired by General Guy Sternwood to stop a blackmailer. It seems that book dealer Arthur Geiger sent Sternwood an extortion letter that mentioned his daughter, Carmen. Now, Sternwood wants Marlowe to find Geiger and stop him. By the time Marlowe gets to Geiger’s shop, though, it’s too late: he’s been murdered. Carmen is in the room when Marlowe finds Geiger’s body, but she is too dazed, or too drugged, to be coherent. Marlowe gets her away from the scene as quickly as possible, to avoid mixing her up in this murder. That decision to rescue Carmen Sternwood draws Marlowe deeper and deeper into the family doings, and into more trouble and danger than he’d bargained for at the outset.

In Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights, we are introduced to Corinna Chapman, a Melbourne accountant-turned-baker who has her home and shop in a large Roman-style building called Insula. In one of the story’s plot lines, the building gets a new resident, Andy Holliday. He doesn’t really mix with the other people who live there and has very little to say for himself. When Chapman visits him to introduce herself, she finds that he’s in a bad way. He’s left most of his things in boxes – except for a bottle of scotch, a glass, and cigarettes. It’s not long before Chapman learns what’s making Halliday miserable: his teenage daughter, Cherie, ran away because her parents didn’t believe her when she told them she was being molested. Andy wants very badly to try to patch things up with Cherie, but he has no idea how to find her. Chapman barely knows the man, but she sees that he needs help, and she steps in. They find a way to reach out to Cherie, and it’s not spoiling the novel to say that Andy and his daughter reconnect.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red features Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s gained a good reputation as host of a television show called Saturday Night, but she knows there are younger, ‘hungry’ journalists out there. So, she would love to find the story that will establish her at the top of New Zealand journalism. And she thinks she finds it in the case of Connor Bligh. He’s been in prison for years for the murder of his sister, her husband, and their son. Only their daughter survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the murder. Now, little pieces of evidence suggest that Bligh was innocent. If that’s true, it would make exactly the sort of story Thorne wants. So, she starts to pursue the story, and almost immediately runs into obstacles. There are several people who are absolutely convinced that Bligh is guilty. They are not at all willing to help Thorne. But she persists, partly out of a desire to get the story, and partly because she feels a desire to rescue Bligh, if I may put it that way, if he’s in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And she finds herself getting closer to the story then she thought she would.

And then there’s Geoffrey McGeachin’s The Digger’s Rest Hotel, which is the first of his Charlie Berlin novels. It’s 1947, and Berlin has recently returned to Melbourne from military service in Europe, where he was a POW for a time. He wants to get on with life and get back to work as a police officer, so he’s seconded to Wodonga to help the local police stop a motorcycle gang that’s been committing a string of robberies. While he’s there, Berlin meets Rebecca Green, who’s doing a story on the robberies for the Argus. Both see the wisdom of working together, rather than as adversaries, so they share the information that they can. As they get to know each other, Green sees that Berlin is suffering from what we would now call PTSD. He’s not really a fragile person, but he has his share of demons, and Green feels a sort of protectiveness towards him. You might even call it the urge to rescue him.

A lot of people have that urge to protect and rescue, and sometimes, it’s a very sound instinct. After all, it’s been responsible for saving a lot of lives. But sometimes, the instinct to rescue and protect can get a person into much more than it seems at first.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chicago’s Rescue You.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Geoffrey McGeachin, Kerry Greenwood, Paddy Richardson, Raymond Chandler

Be Careful What You Wish For*

In John Burdett’s Bangkok Tattoo, Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a dedicated Buddhist, has this to say:
 

‘To the evolved mind of the Gautama Buddha, any desire was an obscene distortion…’
 

And one of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is that the cause of all human suffering is desire, in some form or another.

The whole concept of wanting things (or a particular outcome, or…) is seen differently in non-Buddhist cultures. But even so, we’ve all been warned against greed. There’s even the old expression, ‘Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.’ And there’s something to that. Getting what we think we want may come with all sorts of consequences. Don’t believe me? Just take a quick look at crime fiction, and you’ll see what I mean.

In Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons, we are introduced to Honoria Bulstrode, who owns and runs an exclusive girls’ school called Meadowbank. It’s been a great success and has a gilt-edged reputation. In fact, things are going so well that Miss Bulstrode feels that it’s all gotten a bit dull. Some of the spark has gone out of her work, and she’d like to feel passionate about it all again. All thoughts of dullness go away when the new Games Mistress, Grace Springer, is shot late one night in the new Sports Pavilion. Then, there’s a kidnapping. And another murder. Now, parents start removing their daughters from the school, and there’s a real chance that the school might have to close. Hercule Poirot works to find out who or what is behind all that’s going on at the school. He finds that it’s all connected to some valuable gems and a revolution in a faraway place. Miss Bulstrode might have wanted things to be less dull, but she certainly didn’t want the havoc that’s wreaked on her school…

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity features insurance agent Walter Huff. When he goes to visit one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger, he meets the man’s wife, Phyllis, instead. He’s immediately attracted to her, and she does nothing to discourage him. Before long, they’re having an affair. Phyllis tells her lover about a plan she has to kill her husband. She even persuades him to write the double-indemnity policy she needs to benefit from his death the way she wants to benefit. The two plan the murder, which is duly carried out. Now, it really hits Huff that he’s committed a murder because he wanted Phyllis Nirdlinger. As he gets drawn further and further into the web, he learns what can happen when you get what you think you want.

In Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, we meet Walter and Joanna Eberhart. They’ve just moved from New York City to the small town of Stepford, Connecticut. Their goal was a nice home in an affordable place with low taxes and good schools. And they think they’ve found it. In fact, Stepford seems to be an ideal place. Then, Joanna’s new friend Bobbie Markowe starts to suspect that something might be very wrong with Stepford. At first, Joanna doesn’t believe it. Everything Bobbie mentions seems to have a logical explanation. Besides, Joanna doesn’t want to move again so soon after moving to Stepford. Then, other things begin to happen, and Joanna learns that what she thought she wanted has turned out very differently.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red features Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s been doing very well, but she knows that there are younger, hungry journalists right behind her. What she would really like is the story that could cement her position at the top of New Zealand journalism. And she gets that chance when she hears about the case of Connor Bligh. He’s been in prison for years for the murders of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t at home at the time of the killings. There are little hints now that Bligh might not have committed the crimes. If he is innocent, then this could be the story Thorne’s been wanting. She starts to ask questions, and soon finds herself getting much closer to everything than she should. And she discovers that getting that perfect story isn’t all it may seem on the surface.

And then there’s Jock Serong’s The Rules of Backyard Cricket. Wally and Darren Keefe are both cricket-mad. As children, they play it in the backyard of their Melbourne home, and both of them want to be famous cricketers. Their mother wants that for them, too. It’s not out of the question, either, because both are quite talented. As time goes on, their talent is honed, and they both get what they want: cricket stardom. They have very different personalities, though, and that impacts what happens to them. Wally is the disciplined one. He works very hard and is driven to be the best. Darren has rare talent – the once-in-a-generation kind – but is more impulsive and less disciplined. When he’s at his best, he is superb. But he doesn’t have his brother’s focus. And these differences play an important role in both lives as the two brothers learn the hard way that what they thought they wanted isn’t at all what they imagined. It all leads to real tragedy.

And that’s the thing about getting what you think you want. Sometimes, it works out really well. Other times…it doesn’t. And that can have all sorts of consequences.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a song by Doug Adair.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, James M. Cain, Jock Serong, John Burdett, Paddy Richardson

Let’s Throw a Twilight Cookout*

Community parties, picnics, and barbecues can be a lot of fun. They’re especially popular when the weather is warm, and people can get outdoors. Sometimes they’re sponsored by a school, and sometimes by a religious or political group. They can even be spontaneous. Lots of times they’re very enjoyable, and they give people a chance to connect. But they’re not always safe – well, at least not in crime fiction.

Barbecues and other community social gatherings bring together a lot of different people. They may live or work together, but that doesn’t mean they like one another. And it’s hard to keep track of what everyone’s doing. That makes the context tailor-made for the crime writer. Little wonder we see community events like that in crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s Dead Man’s Folly, for instance, there’s a community fête planned at Nasse House, the home of Sir George and Lady Hattie Stubbs. One of the events planned for the fête is Murder Hunt, a bit like a Scavenger Hunt, where participants find clues and try to find out who murdered the ‘victim.’ The hunt itself is designed by detective story novelist Ariadne Oliver. Tragedy strikes on the day of the fête, when Marlene Tucker, who’s playing the part of the victim, is actually killed. Mrs. Oliver has invited Hercule Poirot to Nasse House to give the prizes for the Murder Hunt, so he is on hand when the body is discovered. And it turns out that more than one person might have had a reason for wanting to kill Marlene. She had a way of finding out much more about people’s secrets than it was safe for her to know.

Ruth Rendell’s To Fear a Painted Devil is the story of Tamsin and Patrick Selby, who live in a sort of cliquish, suburban community called Linchester. They decide to celebrate Tamsin’s twenty-seventh birthday by hosting an outdoor party. They invite several of their friends, and other people who live in the community. Everything goes well enough, until some wasps start annoying the guests. Patrick climbs a ladder to get rid of the wasps’ nest, but he is badly stung in the process. He becomes very ill and unexpectedly dies a few days later. On the surface of it, it seems that he succumbed to an allergy to the wasps. But Dr. Max Greenleaf, who’s been taking care of him, begins to suspect otherwise. He doesn’t want to think that someone he may know is a murderer, but he finally starts asking questions. And it turns out that there are several secrets that the people in Linchester are keeping.

Gail Bowen’s Deadly Appearances begins at a community barbecue/picnic. The event is going to give up-and-coming politician Androu ‘Andy’ Boychuk an opportunity to make a very important speech. He’s got a promising future, and people want to hear what he has to say. Just after he begins speaking, he collapses and dies of what turns out to be poison. His friend, academician and political scientist Joanne Kilbourn, is grief-stricken at his loss. So, she decides to cope by writing Boychuk’s biography. As she does so, she gets closer and closer to the truth about why and how he died. In the end, we learn that Boychuk’s death is related to his past.

In Robert Crais’ L.A. Requiem, Joe Pike’s former lover, Karen Garcia, goes missing, and he wants his partner, Elvis Cole, to help find her. Then, tragically, she turns up dead. Now, her father, who is both wealthy and well-connected, wants to be sure that the police catch the person responsible. So, he hires Pike and Cole to follow along with the LAPD police to be sure they’re not glossing over anything. But Pike has a history with the department. He used to be a cop, and there are still plenty of police officers in the department who don’t like him. In the novel, there’s a telling ‘flashback’ scene that takes place at the (LAPD) Rampart Division’s Family Day picnic. Pike and Karen attend the picnic, but it doesn’t turn out to be the lovely ‘introduce the girlfriend to the workmates’ event it’s supposed to be.

In one of the sub-plots of M.C. Beaton’s Love, Lies and Liquor, private investigator Agatha Raisin’s ex-husband, James Lacey, takes the house next door to hers. On the one hand, she does think of getting back together with him. On the other, she had very good reasons for leaving, and she feels herself well rid of him. One day, he invites her to a barbecue being hosted by friends of his. It turns out that the whole event is a disaster. James treats her horribly, and her hosts and several of the other guests are rude, too. As a gesture to try to make it up to her, James decides to invite her for a getaway weekend at the Paradise Hotel at Snoth-on-Sea. He has fond memories of the place from childhood, but the place has become dilapidated and the town is no longer popular. As if that’s not enough, Agatha gets involved in an argument with another guest – and is later accused of murder when that guest is found dead.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind, which begins with a school picnic on Lake Wanaka. The members of the Anderson family attend, and all starts out well enough. Then, tragedy strikes. Four-year-old Gemma Anderson goes missing. There’s a massive search for her, but no trace of her is found – not even a body. The police don’t even have any leads as to who, exactly, might have abducted her, since there were so many people there. The family is devastated and left permanently scarred by Gemma’s loss. Seventeen years later, Gemma’s older sister, Stephanie, is finishing up her psychiatry program in Dunedin. When she hears about a similar abduction from a patient, she decides to lay her ghosts to rest, and find out who wrought so much havoc on both families. So, she returns to her home town to get some answers.

See what I mean? Community events like picnics and barbecues can be a lot of fun. But, if you get an invitation to one, please do be careful. You never know what can happen…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Chuck Berry’s You Two.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Gail Bowen, M.C. Beaton, Paddy Richardson, Robert Crais, Ruth Rendell

After All This Time You’re Still Asking Questions*

Even after a jury renders its verdict, that doesn’t mean a case goes away. The real truth about some cases doesn’t always come out, which means there are lingering questions about its outcome. We’ve certainly seen that in real life. For example, in 1892, Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Borden was acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother. And there are several theories as to who was really responsible. But at the same time, plenty of people continued to believe she was guilty. And there are historians who think the same thing.

The same questions come up in crime fiction, and it’s interesting to see the roles they can play in the genre. Those lingering questions can be the basis for a legal appeal. Or, they can prompt Cold Case teams to look into the case again. Sleuths, too, can be drawn into cases because of those questions.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Five Little Pigs, famous painter Amyas Crale is poisoned one afternoon. His wife, Caroline, is the main suspect, and she certainly has motive. She is tried for the crime, and is defended by a very skilled lawyer. But she’s found guilty and sent to prison, where she dies a year later. Most people don’t question the jury’s verdict, either. But years later, the Crales’ daughter, Carla, does. She believes that her mother was innocent, and she questions the outcome of the trial. She hires Hercule Poirot to take the case and find out who the real killer is. Slowly, he learns that there were a few questions at the time, but even those who thought Caroline Crale might be innocent faced one major challenge: if it wasn’t Caroline, then who else had a motive? Poirot gets written accounts of the murder from the people who were there at the time; he interviews them, too. That information leads him to the truth about the murder.

In Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life, Superintendent Andy Dalziel returns to a 1963 case – the murder of Pamela Westrup. At the time, Cissy Kohler was arrested, tried, and convicted in connection with the crime. But there were always some questions about whether she was guilty. Now, she’s been released from prison, and the questions continue to mount. There’s talk that she was innocent, but that the investigator in charge of the case, Wally Tallentire, hid evidence that would have supported her case. Dalziel is sure that’s not true, though, and it’s no small matter that Tallentire was his mentor, so he has a personal stake in the case. Dalziel goes back over the events in questions, and slowly gets to the truth about the Westrup murder.

Michael Robotham’s Lost features the case of seven-year-old Mickey Carlyle. Three years earlier, Mickey went missing. Everyone thinks that she was abducted and killed by a paedophile named Harold Wavell. In fact, Wavell was arrested, tried and imprisoned for the crime. But there are still questions about the case. Was Wavell really guilty? If not, what happened to the child?  Detective Inspector (DI) Vincent Ruiz is looking into the case, when he is badly injured. After the injury, he has little memory of what happened. But, with help from psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, Ruiz slowly begins to recover his memories of the case. Once he does, he is able to find out the truth about Mickey.

Paddy Richardson’s Wellington-based journalist Rebecca Thorne learns of lingering questions about a case in Traces of Red. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for murdering his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the murders. There are lingering questions about the case, though. Was Bligh really guilty? There is some evidence that suggests he might be innocent. If he is, then this could be the story to ensure Thorne’s place at the top of New Zealand journalism. She starts looking into the case again and finds herself getting much closer to it than even she thinks is wise. In the end, she learns the truth, but it’s definitely at a cost.

In Sue Younger’s Days Are Like Grass, pediatric surgeon Claire Bowerman returns from London to her native Auckland with her partner, Yossi Shalev, and her daughter, Roimata ‘Roi.’ She’s not particularly eager to make the trip, but it’s important to Yossi, so she goes along with the plan. There’s a good reason, too, for which Claire doesn’t want to go back to Auckland. In 1970, her father, Patrick, was arrested and imprisoned in connection with the disappearance of seventeen-year-old Kathryn Phillips. There was never enough evidence to make a conviction stick, so he didn’t remain in prison. But there are still plenty of people who think he’s guilty. And there are a lot of questions about the trial and about the disappearance. Still, Claire goes back to Auckland with her family. Then, she gets involved in a very high-profile case. A two-year-old in her care is diagnosed with a tumour. His parents object to any surgery on religious grounds, and this puts them squarely up against the hospital. It’s a difficult matter, and it puts Claire in exactly the situation she didn’t want: under the proverbial microscope. Her father’s case is made much of in the media, and all of the questions surrounding it are dragged out again.

There are certain cases like that, though – cases where there’s been an arrest, and possibly a trial and conviction, but there are still questions. Such situations can make for interesting plot lines in a crime novel. And in real life, those cases can make for much speculation.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Goldfinger’s Anything.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Michael Robotham, Paddy Richardson, Reginald Hill, Sue Younger

Big News!*

As this is posted, it’s 44 years since the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s All the President’s Men. As you’ll know, these journalists were instrumental in uncovering the Watergate scandal that ended up bringing down Richard Nixon’s presidency.

Woodward and Bernstein’s exposé was one of the more famous in journalism, but it’s hardly been the only one. Journalists and other writers have been doing exposés for a long time, both before and since All the President’s Men was published. Fictional characters have done that sort of writing, too. Whether such characters are sleuths, victims, or play another role, they’re woven into the crime fiction. And it’s interesting to see how those exposés and the people who work on them are depicted in the genre.

In Gail Bowen’s The Endless Knot, we are introduced to Canadian journalist Kathryn Morrissey. She has written a controversial exposé on the way that several wealthy and celebrated Canadians treat their children. In doing so, she strips away the ‘nice, perfect’ lives these people seem to have. And, she upsets a lot of people. In fact, one of them, Sam Parker, is so incensed by the book that he shoots at, and wounds, Morrissey. He’s arrested, and hires prominent attorney Zack Shreve to defend him. It’s not going to be an easy case; after all, there’s no question that Parker shot Morrissey. But Shreve is a gifted lawyer. Among other things, the novel raises interesting questions about journalism, exposés, and the limits of what’s published.

Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors begins as Australian Federal Police (AFP) detective Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen is lured back to police work after some time away. Alec Dennet, a member of Gough Whitlam’s 1972-1975 government, has been found murdered. He was visiting a writer’s retreat, Uriarra, located near Canberra, to work on his memoirs. Also there was his editor, Lorraine Starke, who’s also been killed. The police soon discover that Dennet’s manuscript is missing. This leads Chen and his team to suspect that something in the manuscript triggered the murders, and that’s not out of the question. It was said that Dennet’s book was to be, among other things, an exposé that might very well embarrass some highly-placed people. It was also said that the manuscript was going to reveal the truth about the alleged conspiracy that brought down the Whitlam government. Chen and his team reason that, if they can find out who took the manuscript, they might find out who the killer is. As it turns out, the case is more complicated than that. As the AFP team look into the matter, we get an interesting look at the impact that exposés can have.

Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers features Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s been working very hard on an exposé of dubious land developer Denny Graham. He’s got both money and influence, so it’s not easy to find people who are willing to talk to her about him. Even people who aren’t intimidated by Graham’s status don’t exactly want it to be public knowledge that they’ve been swindled. Thorne has finally gotten a few people who are willing to be interviewed when her boss sends her on a different course. It’s soon to be the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Springboks (South Africa’s rugby team) tour of New Zealand. Often simply called ‘The Tour,’ this event was controversial. At the time, South Africa still had a strict policy of apartheid, and plenty of New Zealanders didn’t want the team to visit for that reason. Others wanted to watch the rugby. And the police simply wanted to keep order. There were clashes and confrontations, and Thorne’s boss wants her to do a piece on the tour. Thorne isn’t interested, mostly because she doesn’t see any new angle on the story. She also doesn’t want to lose her tenuous hold on the people willing to talk about Denny Graham. Then, she finds a unique angle on the tour story, and ends up looking into a 30-year-old murder.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning introduces his protagonist, Jack Parlabane. As the novel begins, Parlabane’s just returned to his native Edinburgh from Los Angeles. He wakes up one morning to the sound of a loud commotion. Wondering what’s going on, he leaves his flat and goes down the stairs to the one below. Then, he remembers that he’s closed his door, locking himself out of his home. His plan is to go into the downstairs flat, go through a window there, and re-enter his own flat through the corresponding window in it. When he goes into the downstairs flat, though, he finds the body of a man who’s obviously been murdered. Parlabane’s an investigative journalist, so he is curious. But he’s also smart enough to know that he doesn’t want to be caught at the scene of a crime. He’s making his way towards the window when the police, in the form of Detective Constable (DC) Jenny Dalziel find him. Partly to clear himself, and partly because of his curiosity, Parlabane gets involved in the investigation – and ends up doing an exposé that involves health care, politics, and government.

And then there’s Claire McGowan’s The Lost, which introduces her protagonist, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire. In the novel, Maguire travels from London back to her hometown of Ballyterrin, Northern Ireland. She’s to be part of a new Cold Case team that’s finally been funded. Their first case involves some girls who have gone missing, and the team gets right to work. The trail leads to some secrets that some well-respected people would much rather keep quiet. Along the way, Maguire meets up again with her old flame, Aidan O’Hara, who edits the local paper. He’s used to doing very safe ‘fluff’ stories, but he gets his chance at an exposé with this case.

Exposés can be interesting. When they’re accurately done, they can shed important light on things that are happening, too – things people should know. And writers who do exposés can make for interesting fictional characters.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jason Robert Brown.

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Filed under Christopher Brookmyre, Claire McGowan, Gail Bowen, Kel Robertson, Paddy Richardson