Category Archives: Paddy Richardson

Walk Away From it All*

An interesting comment exchange with crime writer and fellow blogger E. Michael Helms has got me thinking about crime-fictional situations where the sleuth is asked (or sometimes told forcefully (or worse)) not to investigate. That happens quite a lot in the genre, and it’s interesting to consider the many reasons why.

Obviously, the guilty party (or someone in league with the guilty party) wouldn’t want an investigation. I’m not really talking of those cases: the reason is patently clear. But there are other reasons, which can add a layer of interest and character development to a story.

In several of Agatha Christie’s stories, the sleuth is pressured not to investigate. For example, in Appointment With Death, Hercule Poirot is on a trip through the Middle East. Colonel Carbury asks Poirot’s help with a case he’s investigating. The Boynton family has been sightseeing in the area and took a trip to Petra. There, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton suddenly died of what looked at first like sudden heart failure. That wouldn’t be surprising, given her age and health. But it turns out that Mrs. Boynton was poisoned. Poirot starts to look into the case, and it’s not long before one of the characters asks him to let the matter go. The reason is that Mrs. Boynton was tyrannical and, as Poirot says, ‘a mental sadist.’ She kept her family so cowed that none of the members dared disagree with her on anything. It’s felt that the family have suffered enough, and that if one of them is guilty, this will just make things worse.

In A Dark-Adapted Eye, Ruth Rendell (as Barbara Vine) explores the complexities of family dynamics, among other things. The Longley family has always prided itself on being very ‘respectable.’ There’s been no scandal or cause for anyone to gossip. Then, journalist Daniel Stewart digs up a Longley family secret and decides to write a book about it. He contacts Faith Longley Severn to help him with the book, and she agrees. But it’s not going to be easy. Many years earlier, Faith’s aunt, Vera Longley Hilliard, was executed for murder. It was all kept very quiet, and no-one really wanted an investigation. To have the Longley name dragged through the mud like that would have been unthinkable. As the story goes on, we learn what really happened, and how the family dynamics played an important role in everything.

Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X offers another interesting reason people wouldn’t want a murder investigated. In that novel, Tokyo Inspector Shunpei Kusanagi investigates when Shinji Togashi is murdered. The most likely suspect is the victim’s ex-wife, Yasuko Hanaoka, and she certainly had motive. Togashi was abusive and had been harassing her again lately. But Kusanagi can’t find any real evidence to link her to the case. And she has an unbreakable alibi, so there seems no way to connect her to the murder. Kusanagi asks for help from an old college friend, Dr. Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa, a physicist who sometimes consults with the police. Yakuwa discovers that a gifted math instructor named Tetsuya Ishigami lives next door to Hanaoka. He suspects that this man knows more than he is saying about the crime, but Ishigami holds firmly to what he claims. He corroborates Hanaoka’s alibi, and does everything he can to protect her, mostly because he is in love with her. He doesn’t want the case investigated, and he does what he can to keep the police from making progress.

Sometimes fictional characters don’t want cases investigated because they’re afraid of the consequences for themselves if they are. For example, in both Maureen Carter’s Working Girls, and Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead, the police are investigating cases of sex workers who’ve been murdered. As you would expect, the police want to talk to the victims’ friends and co-workers to try to find out who the killer is. That makes sense, as those people might know the victims well enough to help. But in both cases, those friends and co-workers (mostly other sex workers) do not want the police to investigate. It’s not because they don’t mourn their friend. And, in an ideal world, they’d want the killer brought to justice. But it’s not an ideal world, and these sex workers are afraid for themselves if the police investigate, since they’re mixed up with some dangerous people. So, they say as little as they can get away with saying.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne has reached a sort of crossroads in her career. She’s well aware that there are younger, ‘hungry’ journalists out there who would be more than happy to supplant her. So, she’s looking for the story that will establish her at the top of New Zealand journalism. She thinks she finds that story when she hears of 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. Their daughter, Katy, survived only because she wasn’t home at the time of the murders. Everyone’s assumed that Bligh was guilty, but now there are little pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. If he is innocent, and he’s been wrongly imprisoned, this could be a major story. So, Thorne starts asking questions. Almost immediately there’s a lot of pressure on her not to investigate. Some of it comes from people who are convinced that Bligh is guilty. There are also those who don’t want people’s lives turned upside down. But Thorne persists, and finds herself getting much closer to the case than she thought – or than is good for her.

A murder investigation is a difficult, painful process, even for those who are not suspects (or criminals). So, it’s understandable that sometimes, people wouldn’t want an investigation to be carried out. This reality can add interest and tension to a story.

Thanks, Michael, for the inspiration. Folks, do visit Michael’s site, and his blog, and do try his ‘Mac’ McClellan mysteries. You won’t regret it.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Roland Kent LaVoie (AKA Lobo).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barbara Vine, Harry Bingham, Keigo Higashino, Maureen Carter, Paddy Richardson, Ruth Rendell

He’s a Genius Who Believes*

As this is posted, it would have been Albert Einstein’s 139th birthday. For many people, Einstein personified genius. And he was, of course, a truly remarkable mathematician, physicist, and more. His contributions to science and technology have had profound and lasting effects on the world.

Einstein isn’t, of course, the only person people regard as a genius. There are plenty of others. And the people you would put on your ‘genuine genius’ list would depend on how, exactly, you define genius. And that’s by no means a settled question. Still, it’s interesting to take a look at people with extraordinary intellectual gifts.

There are certainly plenty of them in crime fiction. One of the crime-fictional geniuses most people think of is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. He’s made detection his life’s work and passion, so he channels his brilliance into certain specific areas. But in those areas, he has remarkable knowledge. Fans of these stories can tell you that genius seems to run in Holmes’ family. His brother, Mycroft, is even more gifted, and in a few stories, the Holmes brothers work together. There’s also genius on the other side of the law in the form of Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty. In fact, Moriarty is one of the few people who can really be a match for Holmes’ skills.

In Matthew Gant’s short story, The Uses of Intelligence, we are introduced to eleven-year-old twins Patty and Danny Perkins. They are both geniuses, with exceptionally high IQs. One day, they learn that an acquaintance of theirs, banana seller Aristos Depopoulos, has been killed. The weapon looks like the proverbial blunt instrument, and the police think Depopoulos was killed by one of the workers at a nearby construction site. But Patty and Danny aren’t sure that’s what happened. So, they put their genius to the test and work to find out the truth. When they discover who the killer is, the twins decide to engage in a bit of blackmail: their silence for regular weekly payoffs. What they don’t know, though is that they’re not the only ones who are geniuses…

Keigo Higashino’s crime fiction series features Tokyo physics professor Manabu ‘Galileo’ Yukawa. In many ways, this is a police procedural series, and the focus is on the police and the way they go about investigating and solving crime. But Yukawa acts as a mentor to several of the police officers who took his classes or have otherwise had dealings with him. So, they bring their cases to him when they need to tap his genius. And he proves to be very helpful. Yugawa doesn’t claim to have a great deal of knowledge outside his fields of physics and mathematics. But within those fields, he has remarkable abilities.

If you’ve read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novels, then you know that one of his protagonists, Lisbeth Salander, has a rare gift with computers and a photographic memory. She has Asperger’s Syndrome, so social skills are not her strength. But she does have real genius in certain areas. And her skills turn out to be crucial for journalist Mikael Blomkvist. It all starts in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, when he is hired by Henrik Vanger. It seems that Vanger’s great-niece, Harriet, went missing nearly forty years earlier. Everyone thought she was dead, but Vanger’s been getting gifts of dried flowers for his birthdays – something only Harriet would do. Vanger wants Blomqvist to find out what happened to Harriet, in return for which he’ll help Vanger bring down the man who successfully sued Blomqvist for libel. Blomqvist hires Salander to do the background research, and she proves to be critical to finding out the truth.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. In that novel, Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne is at a crossroads. She’s had quite a bit of success, but she isn’t naïve enough to think that she can rest on her laurels. There are younger, ‘hungry’ people coming up behind her, and Thorne would like to cement a position at the top of New Zealand journalism. She thinks she may have her chance when she learns about the case of Connor Bligh. He’s been in prison for years for the murder of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. The only survivor was their daughter, Katy, who wasn’t home at the time of the killings. Everyone assumed that Bligh was guilty, but now, there are little suggestions that he might have been innocent. If so, then this could be the story that Thorne needs. Despite the misgivings that several people express, Thorne starts asking questions. And in the end, she finds herself much more bound up in the story than she thought she would be (or should be). As Thorne does her research (including lengthy communication with Bligh himself), she learns that Bligh is a brilliant person – a genius. He’s had unusual intellectual gifts all his life, but not much in the way of social skills. His struggle to find a place, if you will, has played an important role in his life.

There are, of course, many different kinds of genius, and many examples of people who possess it. These are just a few crime-fictional examples. Over to you.
 

In Memoriam

Although we celebrate Einstein’s birthday today, this post is also dedicated to the memory of Stephen Hawking, a true scientific visionary, who saw so much more than most. He will be sorely missed.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Instanzia’s A Genius Who Believes.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Keigo Higashino, Matthew Gant, Paddy Richardson, Stieg Larsson

Interruptions Are Always on My Mind*

Most readers want a smooth narration in their stories. They’d rather not have the story broken up, because it can be distracting. But sometimes, when it’s done well, a narrative can be broken up successfully, and still be a coherent story. It’s not easy to pull off well, but when it works, it can be an interesting innovation.

Some authors break up the narrative with asides to the reader. The ‘Queen team’ behind the Ellery Queen novels and stories did this more than once (I’m thinking, especially, of The Roman Hat Mystery). At some point in the story, the authors turn to the reader, as it were, and announce that all the clues are there. Then, the reader is invited to work out the solution. After that brief interlude, the story returns to a chronological retelling of the events, and then the solution.

We see just a hint of this in Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Five Red Herrings, too. In that novel, painter Sandy Campbell is found dead in a stream in Galloway, Scotland. Lord Peter Wimsey is in the area on a fishing holiday, so he gets involved in the investigation of Campbell’s death. There are six suspects, all of them artists. One of them is the real killer; the other are red herrings (hence, the title). At one point, Wimsey notices that something is not right about the scene of the crime. Here is how Sayers expresses it:
 

‘Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was looking for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted from this page.’
 

It’s an interesting way to tell that part of the story, and to invite the reader to engage in it.

Sometimes, the author chooses to use devices such as letters, transcripts and the like. This, too, breaks up the narrative, and can convey quite a lot of meaning. We see this in Minette Walters’ The Breaker. When the body of Kate Sumner is discovered near Chapman’s Pool in Dorset, PC Nick Ingram is the first police officer on the scene. He works with DI John Galbraith, WPC Sandra Griffiths, and Superintendent Carpenter to find out who killed the victim and why. The list of possible suspects is soon narrowed to three: the victim’s husband, William Sumner; an actor named Stephen Harding; and his roommate, schoolteacher Tony Bridges. Now, the team has to work through each suspect’s alibi and background to find out which one is guilty. Part of the information in the story is given in the form of transcripts, police files, hospital records, and so on. These pieces of information break up the narrative and provide detail in a different way.

You might argue that Lawrence Sanders’ The Anderson Tapes doesn’t really have a narrative – not in the conventional sense. It’s the story of John ‘Duke’ Anderson and his plot to rob all of the apartments in a wealthy Manhattan building. As he gets the idea, enlists confederates, gets materials, and so on, readers follow along through a series of transcripts, notes, records, and other documentation. Each bit of information tells a part of the story, and it’s interesting to see how plot coheres, even though there isn’t one particular narrative voice that does that.

In one plot thread of Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers, Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne is asked to come up with a new angle for a story to commemorate the (South Africa) Springbok’s 1981 tour of New Zealand. Often called ‘the Tour,’ the event was marked by a lot of controversy. At the time of the tour, South Africa was still under apartheid, and many New Zealanders didn’t want the Springboks to tour on that score. Others simply wanted to watch the rugby matches. And the police were supposed to keep order. There were protests, some of which turned very ugly, and everyone had to deal with that reality. Thorne doesn’t think there is a new angle for this story, as it’s been covered quite often. But then, she notices something. During some of the matches, two dancers dressed as lambs entertained the audience. Then, the lambs stopped attending. Thorne later finds out that one of them was killed. Now, she’s got an angle: what happened to the lambs? As the story of that day unfolds, Richardson uses interviews with some of the people there to help tell the story. Those interviews are woven into the rest of the narrative, and add to it, although they’re not, strictly speaking, part of it.

There are other ways, too, in which authors can break up, or interrupt, the narrative of the story. Sometimes, it’s a distraction, and can pull the reader out of the story. But, when it’s done well, it can actually have the opposite effect. Such breaks can actually invite the reader to process more and engage more. What do you think? Do you get distracted by breaks in the story? If you’re a writer, do you put them into your story?

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Rogue Wave’s Interruptions.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen, Lawrence Sanders, Paddy Richardson

Who Knows Where it Will Lead Us?*

Sometimes, authors set the scene in one novel for what’s going to happen in the next. This often (but not always) happens in a series, where the author wants to lay the proverbial groundwork for another story or novel.

It’s tricky to give such hints. For one thing, readers don’t usually like stories to end with real cliffhangers. Most readers want some sense of resolution to the main plot. For another, changes can happen, even in a series, and even where the author has planned future novels. Creating a context for the next novel, when that novel might change, is risky. But, when it’s done well, that sort of groundwork can be an effective segue between novels. It can also invite readers who enjoy a novel to try the next one, too.

In Agatha Christie’s short story The Double Clue, Hercule Poirot is called in by antiques collector Marcus Hardman. It seems he hosted a tea party at his home, and during the party, showed his guests some precious jewels he’d collected. Later, his safe was rifled and the jewels went missing. There are only four suspects, and Poirot uses two clues in particular to find out who the thief is. One of the ‘people of interest’ in this story is Countess Vera Rossakoff, a refugee from the Russian Revolution. Poirot finds himself quite impressed with her. In fact, this is what he says about her to Hastings:
 

‘‘A remarkable woman. I have a feeling, my friend – a very decided feeling – I shall meet her again. Where, I wonder?’’
 

He does, in The Big Four.

In Stuart Kaminsky’s Bullet For a Star, 1940s Hollywood PI Toby Peters gets a new case. Someone’s blackmailing film star Errol Flynn over a very compromising photograph taken with a young girl. The blackmailer threatens to go the press with the photograph unless Flynn pays. Producer Sid Adelman has decided to pay, rather than risk that sort of publicity, and he wants Peters to be ‘the go between.’ All Peters needs to do is hand over the money, get the photograph and negative, and return them to Adelman. Peters agrees, but during the exchange, someone attacks him, steals his gun, and shoots the blackmailer. The photograph and negative are stolen, too. Now, Peters has to find out who the killer is (since his own gun is involved, and he’s a suspect). He also has to find the photograph and negative. In the end, and after another murder, Peters finds out the truth. At the very end of the novel, he gets a call from another star, Judy Garland, who has another case for him. That lays the groundwork for the next novel, Murder on the Yellow Brick Road.

As Simon Beckett’s Written in Bone ends, forensic anthropologist David Hunter faces physical and mental trauma as a result of the case he’s investigating. This lays the groundwork for Whispers of the Dead. At the beginning of that novel, he’s decided to get out of London for a while as a way of dealing with that trauma. He opts to spend some time at Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, also known as the Body Farm. His plan is to do some research, spend some time getting well, and connect with his mentor, Tom Liebermann. Very soon after Hunter’s arrival in Tennessee, a decomposed corpse turns up near a disused cabin not far from the lab. Hunter finds himself drawn into the case, and it’s a wrenching one.

Cathy Ace’s The Corpse With the Silver Tongue introduces her sleuth, Caitlin Morgan. Morgan is a criminologist and academician who teaches at the University of Vancouver. Occasionally, she also consults with the Vancouver Police. When a colleague breaks some bones in a bicycling accident, Morgan is asked to take his place at an upcoming symposium in Nice. It’s just a matter of going to the symposium and delivering her colleague’s lecture, so she agrees. Besides, it’s a beautiful location for a symposium. At first, all goes well. Then, by chance, Morgan meets up with Alistair Townsend, a former employer. He insists that she attend the upcoming birthday party he’s having for his wife, Tamsin, and there’s really no way for Morgan to back out of it. She’s extremely reluctant, because her relationship with Townsend wasn’t a pleasant one. But she finally agrees to go. At the party, Townsend suddenly collapses and dies of what turns out to be digitalis poisoning. In part because she’s a suspect, and in part because she wants to finish this trip and go back to Vancouver, Morgan starts to ask questions. In one sub-plot of this novel, Morgan gets very concerned about her friend, Bud Anderson, a detective with Vancouver’s Integrated Homicide Bureau. He seems to be facing a serious problem, and she tries to help. The main plot in the novel, the murder of Alistair Townsend, is resolved. The sub-plot, though, leaves open the possibility for more development in future novels, and that’s exactly what happens. It’s an interesting way to move to the next novel in the series, but at the same time, resolve the main plot.

And then there’s Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind. That’s the story of Stephanie Anderson, who’s just beginning her career as a Dunedin psychiatrist. When she gets a new patient, Elisabeth Clark, things don’t go well at first. She can’t seem to connect with Elisabeth, and they don’t make much progress. Then, Elisabeth tells her that, years ago, her younger sister, Gracie, was abducted and never found – not even a body. This story is eerily similar to Anderson’s own past. Seventeen years earlier, her younger sister, Gemma, also went missing and was never found. Anderson decides to lay her own ghosts to rest and try to find out who was responsible for both abductions. She returns to her home town of Wanaka, where she hopes to get some answers. Along the way, she is faced with a personal choice, and at the end of the novel, she makes that choice, and it lays the groundwork for a further novel. I hope we see that novel at some point.

It’s not an easy task to use one novel to build a context or provide a motivation for another. But when it’s done well, it can be effective. And it can build interest in that new novel.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul’s Audition (The Fools Who Dream).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Cathy Ace, Paddy Richardson, Simon Beckett, Stuart Kaminsky

One Little Choice*

In many stories, there’s a point of decision. And that decision has consequences that drive the rest of the plot. It may not seem like a momentous decision at the time the character takes it, but it often turns out to make all the difference in the story.

Certainly, we see those sorts of moments in crime fiction. For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, we are introduced to Anne Bedingfield. Her father has recently died, leaving her with very little money. She doesn’t envision a life for herself as, say, a typist. And she’s not really interested in settling down and marrying. She’s a bit at loose ends when she happens to witness a tube accident in which a man falls (or is pushed) under an oncoming train. Anne happens to pick up a piece of paper that the dead man had in his pocket, and soon works out that it refers to the upcoming sailing of the Kilmorden Castle for Cape Town. On impulse, she goes to a travel agency and books passage on the ship. That decision turns out to have important consequences for her, as she ends up caught in a web of intrigue, smuggled gems, and murder.

William Hjortsberg’s historical (1959) novel Falling Angel is the story of a low-rent New York private investigator named Harry Angel. One day, he gets a call from the upmarket law offices of McIntosh, Winesap, and Spy. It seems that one of their clients, Louis Cyphre, wants to find a man named Jonathan Liebling. Better known as Johnny Favorite, Liebling was a gifted jazz musician. Cyphre says that he helped Johnny Favorite at the start of his career, in return for which he was promised certain ‘collateral,’ which he doesn’t specify. Then, Liebling was drafted into service in World War II. He returned from the war physically and emotionally badly damaged, and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Then, he disappeared from the hospital. Now, Cyphre wants to find him. Angel’s decision to take the case and look for Johnny Favorite turns out to have major consequences, and drives the rest of the plot. He ends up caught in a case of horror, multiple murder, and worse.

In Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger, the police inform Fabien Delorme that his wife, Sylvie, has died in a car crash. Delorme will miss his wife, but their marriage hadn’t been a loving one for some time. What’s worse, in his mind, is that Sylvie was not alone in the car. She had taken a lover, Martial Arnoult, who also died in the crash. Against his better judgement, Delorme sneaks a look at the information the police have on Arnoult. That’s how he learns that Arnoult left a widow, Martine. Delorme’s decision to peek at that information, and then act on it, turns out to be a fateful one. He becomes obsessed with Martine, and it’s not long before things spiral completely out of control for both of them.

Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red is the first to feature Wellington television journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s at a crossroads in her career, and wants to cement her position at the top of New Zealand journalism. It’s not going to be easy, as there are younger, ‘hungry’ journalists coming up the ranks. Then, she learns about a possible story that could exactly what she needs. Connor Bligh has been in prison for years for the murder of 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 killings. Now, little pieces of evidence suggest that Bligh might be innocent. If that’s true, it’s a major story. Several people caution Thorne against pursuing the story. But she decides to go after it. Doing so has real personal and professional consequences for her, and for other people in her life.

And then there’s Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy. In it, former safecracker/lockbreaker Jeet Singh has ‘gone straight,’ and now owns a Mumbai kiosk where he makes keys. Then, he gets a call from a former underworld connection, offering him quite a lot of money if he agrees to do a job. Singh refuses outright. He doesn’t want to have any more to do with police or prison. Not long afterwards, he gets a visit from his former lover, Sushmita. She tells him that her wealthy husband died in what looked like a carjacking gone wrong. It’s since been proved to be a murder, and she’s suspected of hiring the killer. She has a good motive, too, as she stands to inherit a fortune. Now, she needs a good lawyer to help her clear her name, and she asks Singh for help. He’s still more than half in love with her, although she broke his heart. So, he agrees to get the money she needs. That decision draws Singh into the underworld again, and ends up putting him under suspicion of murder.

A decision may seem like a trivial one on the surface. But sometimes, even those smaller decisions can lead to very big consequences. And those consequences can be dangerous…

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Dave Malloy’s Hero.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Paddy Richardson, Pascal Garnier, Surender Mohan Pathak, William Hjortsberg