Wingfield, R D - 'A Killing Frost'
I loved this crackingly paced book, which follows the same formula as the previous five novels in the series. Inspector Jack Frost is messy, disorganised and impulsive, incapable of looking after himself, yet totally dedicated to his job. He's also hilarious. He is one of those cops whose work ethic has nothing to do with external factors, which is just as well, as he is in a grade beneath his natural ability and his superiors are out to get him: specifically, to transfer him to nearby Lexton, a dump compared with the (not particularly nice) town of Denton, where Jack is stationed.
As well as coping with regular burden Superintendent Mullet, Jack has the additional cross to bear of Detective Chief Inspector Skinner, who insists on taking over investigations just when Jack has done all the donkey work. And there are incidents galore that need police action, ranging from the discovery of a decomposing foot in the woods, to the abduction of a two-year-old baby, and the disappearance of a twelve-year-old girl. Jack has a bad feeling about this last case, but despite all his efforts he cannot find a trace of the girl. Her father is irate, but his fury is no match for the nasty secrets that Jack wastes no time in uncovering. Before Jack can turn round, however, he finds out that the owner of a local supermarket is being blackmailed by someone who is threatening to poison the food on the shelves, leading to poor Jack and his team staking out cash-machines each night while the blackmailer attempts to withdraw the day's maximum amount of money from the ransom that has been deposited in the local building society. They have to work in daylight hours as well, naturally, as another girl goes missing, and yet another body is found by the railway embankment. Later, a butcher confesses to murdering his wife.
R D Wingfield rings the changes between all these cases with gusto and verve. Jack rises to every challenge with wit, insight and vulgarity, often sleeping at his desk fully clothed for a couple of hours before facing the next crisis - as well as failing to stem the usual flood of urgent admin from the ghastly Superintendent Mullett. Skinner continues to destabilise the team and manipulates Jack ruthlessly so that he takes the credit for all Jack's perspicacity - though eventually, he goes one step too far, with tragic results.
There are some holes in the plot, but they are easy to forgive given the number of balls in the air and because the book is so good-natured and very funny. Jack is a vivid character: so much so that he has formed the basis of a long-running successful TV series, in which he is considerably toned-down and sentimentalised. In the book version, Jack sails close to the edge: he constantly insults his fellow-officers, yet has no trouble getting them to do as he wants, not only because in his brusque way he rewards merit and initiative, but also he is the only detective in the local force who has a real instinct for the investigations, and it is he who eventually solves all the many crimes, much to Mullett's inner rage. He's not just a slapstick rogue, though, he is still mourning his wife, who dies in the first book, and is a lonely man - even admitting his failings to himself, but not really willing to try to change.
Sadly, R D Wingfield, author of A KILLING FROST, died before the book was published. Mike Ripley has written an excellent appreciation at Shotsmag: http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/features/2008/wingfield/wingfield.html, which is a funny and fitting tribute to this highly talented author .
Read another review of A KILLING FROST.
Maxine Clarke, England