Friday, August 14, 2009

Review of Winter Frost by R.D. Wingfield, Corgi (1999)

Winter Frost is the fourth Frost I’ve read this year having discovered the series back in March browsing in Murder Ink in Dublin. I was very familiar with the television series – A Touch of Frost – and was worried the books would be quite dour, slow and formulaic. The Frost books are, however, quite different to the television version being much more humorous, often politically incorrect, and rattling along at a fast pace, interweaving several plot lines as Frost juggles multiple cases.

Frost himself is a conniving, coarse, sarcastic, insolent, ribald, scruffy and persistent cop. He’s disdainful of anyone in authority; shirks paperwork and any job that doesn’t take his fancy; is happy to cut corners, take liberties with evidence, to bluff and lie to get results, and commandeer resources and ask for permission afterwards; and is always making miscalculations and errors, often with dire consequences, although he’s always prepared to take the blame for them and the mistakes of others. In other words, he’s a lovable rogue who ultimately cares about his colleagues and victims and wants justice performed. That justice is eventually realised is often the result of inspired stumbling and luck than carefully managed police work. He also tells awful jokes and uses distasteful humour to deal with the stresses of the job (which is often very funny and I’ve laughed out loud a fair few times with each book).

Wells couldn’t bite at the bait quickly enough. ‘Superior? She’s the same rank as me … a sergeant. She’s done half the time I have, only been here five flaming minutes and she’s made up to a temporary inspector. What has she got that I haven’t?’
‘Big tits,’ said Frost.

Wells jabbed a finger. ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head there, Jack. It’s sex discrimination in reverse.’
‘I’ve never tried it in reverse,’ said Frost, ‘but where is she?’
‘With a prisoner … a cab driver. He picked this woman up and, instead of taking her home, took her down a side street and raped her.’

‘Bloody hell!’ tutted Frost. ‘I hope she didn’t leave him a tip.’

In Winter Frost the usual chaotic madness reigns in Denton police station – short staffed, under-funded, badly managed, with several high profile cases on the go. Superintendent Mullet has lent half the staff to the county headquarters for a drugs case, leaving those remaining including the bitter Sergeant Wells, ambitious Liz Maud, and incompetent ‘Taffy’ Morgan to cope. Someone is kidnapping, torturing and then killing prostitutes, two young girls have disappeared, an old skeleton has been found under a garage, there is a spate of burglaries across the town, the local supermarket has been held up at gunpoint, and a gang have ram raided a jewellers. To top it off, not long after Frost has arrested the prime suspect in the young girls disappearances, the seemingly innocent man tops himself thus starting an internal inquiry.

In the main, Winter Frost is a terrific read. Wingfield’s characterization is superb, with well drawn characters who come to life on the page. His dialogue ‘feels’ real and narrative is well written. The first hundred pages or so, in particular, are very well done, sucking you in to the story and providing several laughs. My main issue with the book, as with the other books in the series is that there are too many plotlines. Not that they are difficult to follow, but that there’s no way Frost would be trying to manage so many, especially given the seriousness of the cases. Two missing girls under the age of nine would have meant massive media coverage, an influx of national dailies, and huge pressure from senior police and politicians for a result. The same for a killing spree on prostitutes. The idea that both of these cases would be tackled by the same policeman, who is also looking after several others, and that a drugs case would have staffing priority is ridiculous. While having many plotlines makes for a lot of action it’s really not needed as the book would have worked just as well with just one or two. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but as with one of the other books, I was also a little disappointed with the ending. That said, Winter Frost is a very entertaining read and I will be buying the last two I'm missing in the series in due course.

If only the television series could have stuck to the bawdy, politically incorrect cop of the books. One of crime fiction’s great characters has had most of the life sucked out of him by the small screen (despite the fine acting by David Jason). I picked up my copy in The Reading Room in Carrick on Shannon.


Dorte H said...

"The Frost books are, however, quite different to the television version being much more humorous, often politically incorrect, and rattling along at a fast pace, interweaving several plot lines as Frost juggles multiple cases."

And I thought I was the only person in the world who had realized that :D

My husband is quite fond of the TV series, but I think they are too alike. In my opinion far too many series run for far too long.

Maxine Clarke said...

I loved these books (have recently read his last one) - the pace, humour, political incorrectness and emotional honesty (eg Frost and his wife) are all great ingredients.
I once saw a couple of the TV episodes but although I like David Jason's acting skills, Frost is not a "loveable rogue" so I parted company and did not see any more.