Tuesday, October 23, 2012

W is for R. D. Wingfield

For this week's Crime Fiction Alphabet meme, I am featuring R. D. Wingfield.  Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter W.

R. D. Wingfield (1928-2007) wrote only six mysteries, all starring Inspector Frost of the Denton Division. He wrote most of them later in his life. They eventually garnered a lot of attention and praise.

The story of how the novels came to be is very interesting. More detail can be found at this Wikipedia article.

Wingfield originally wrote radio dramas which were very successful. Per this obituary in the Guardian, written by Mike Ripley, it was Wingfield's "reputation as a craftsman of mystery stories featuring small-time criminals and multiple plot lines that brought him to the attention of publishers Macmillan." In 1972, Macmillan requested that Wingfield write a book for them, and he submitted Frost at Christmas. They rejected it, but eventually it was published in the 1980's in Canada and the UK. In between, there was a radio play featuring Frost.

These are the dates of publication of the six Frost novels, per Fantastic Fiction:
1. Frost at Christmas (1984)
2. A Touch of Frost (1987)
3. Night Frost (1992)
4. Hard Frost (1995)
5. Winter Frost (1999)
6. A Killing Frost (2008)

The Frost series was adapted in a television series beginning in 1992 and had a long run. I have seen the first three of the TV series and I have read two of the novels, and my take on it is that they really softened up the Frost character for TV. He has most of the characteristics that he has in the books, but a much milder version. According to Wikipedia, Wingfield's view was that the TV Frost was not his Frost. Nothing wrong with that, just something to know when reading the books after watching the TV shows, or vice versa.

The Frost books are police procedurals set in England that show the Denton Division handling multiple crimes over the course of several days. Detective Inspector Jack Frost is not typical in any way. He circumvents routine police work whenever possible. He is unkempt to the point of slovenliness and he is forgetful and a procrastinator. He has no respect for his superiors and doesn't hide it very well.  Nevertheless, regardless of all his "weak" areas, at least in the view of his superiors and some co-workers, he usually succeeds in solving crimes.

A Touch of Frost

This the second Frost novel that I have read. From the back of the paperback copy that I read:
Though he's officially on duty, Frost is looking for the nearest opportunity to sneak off to the departmental booze-up celebrating a colleague's retirement. But the normally sleepy town of Denton is not cooperating this cold autumn night, leaving Frost wading in his best suit through a flooded public rest room to investigate a junkie's death. And from there, things start to go seriously downhill...
Even with all of Frost's failings as a policeman, he does care about people and can show sensitivity when needed. There is a very moving section where he is informing a policeman's wife that her husband has been killed. From his interactions with members of the community, you can tell that they know his value and respect him, regardless of what his superiors think.

The story is entertaining and Wingfield's writing draws you in. Even with multiple crimes being investigated, and the assignment of the crimes to officers switching back and forth, I had no trouble following the story and I never lost interest. The back and forth between all levels of the department, from the supervisors to the constables, is interesting. The writing is gritty and police work is not romanticized. I found Frost's behavior irritating and he is at times not likable, but that did not detract from the engrossing story.

I was commenting on a blog recently and I compared Inspector Frost to Commissaire Adamsberg of the series by Fred Vargas. Both work in unconventional ways and see possibilities of solutions that others don't see. Then I recently saw this review at Mysteries in Paradise where she also compared the way the two detectives work. I will have to go back and give the Commissaire Adamsberg series another try.

Obviously I plan to finish up this series.


Peggy Ann said...

Sounds good Teacy. I have seen the show and didn't really care for it, but the books sound much better.

Bill Selnes said...

Tracy K: I have not read any of the books but have seen most of the T.V. series. I expect my image of Frost is set in that of the T.V. Frost. Can you go to the books if your mind will be thinking of the T.V. Frost?

TracyK said...

Hard to say, since I went the other way. Read one book first. The books are grittier, and the series is cozier (if I remember correctly). They both have their good points. I just enjoyed the writing so much, and so many other reviewers have too, that I would say you should give one a try.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - A great choice! I have to admit I first got to know Wingfield's work through the TV drama, which is usually not my MO. I happen to like the books, but the series was good too and to be honest, I usually prefer one or the other.

Katrina said...

I've only ever seen trailers for the TV series and somehow I just didn't fancy them but the books sound much better. I'll look out for them. Thanks.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Interesting choice TracyK - I am intrigued by the books but have never picked them up. I never really liked the TV series but they seem to have been very different from the originals. I am much more familiar with his radio plays, including the ones he later adapted for the novels. He certainly has a great acerbic way with him and loves to turn the knife in the wound.

Nan said...

David Jason really became Jack Frost. He was so excellent in the role. I have watched all but the last. Though he may have been 'milder' than the book detective, the cases could be quite dark and sad.

TracyK said...

I looked back at the post and I did not make it clear that I did like the Frost TV series. I plan to watch the rest of them, over time. I don't mind TV series being different (from the original source), and here the difference is not huge anyway. I did read some opinions that reviewers did not like these books after seeing the series and vice versa.