There remains a certain prejudice in literary circles against genre fiction, and crime fiction in particular. A snobbishness exists; a closed circle of elitism, which precludes crime fiction from ascending to the lofty ivory towers of so-called literary fiction. For example, when has a crime novel ever won the Booker Prize; and how few have even made the short-list? Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project a rare inclusion in 2016.
It is very hard to justify such a prejudice after reading the DI Jack Frost crime novels of R. D. Wingfield. The six novels constitute sustained exemplary writing both in terms of characterisation and construction.
The definition of what constitutes literary fiction is something of a moveable feast, but typical descriptions include: social commentary; political criticism; and reflection on the human condition. In addition, writing, which focuses more on style, psychological depth and character, sometimes at the expense of plot.
I would defy any reader of Wingfield’s novels not to discover social commentary, political criticism and reflections on the human condition in them. His writing abounds with style, psychological depth, character, plus he also manages to stuff his books full of massively exciting and authentic plots, too.
Detective Inspector Jack Frost is a tremendous literary creation. He is widely known from the TV series A Touch of Frost, starring David Jason and, although the TV series is justly popular, the character as described in the books is a different, more complex, and far more well-drawn individual. Indeed, Wingfield himself, whilst acknowledging the success of the show, remarked that “he just isn’t my Frost”.
Wingfield manages to juggle multiple plots and subplots within each book, often opening an entirely fresh investigation just at the point when you think an old one is about to close. As a reader, it can be an exhaustingly immersive experience: you feel the pressure of the mounting workload; share the disappointment of a failed stakeout; sometimes just want that police radio to stop ringing, so that you and DI Frost both can get some much needed shut-eye. But there is always one more thing to do; one more lead to follow; one more report to fill in; one more suspect to interview.
Offsetting the frequent grimness of the subject matter of a crime investigation is the vast sense of humour, which crackles through the entire series of Frost novels. Much of this humour springs from Frost’s verbal interplay with the other regular characters in the books: the conniving Mullett; the work-shy Morgan; and the grumbling Wells.
Sadly, R. D. Wingfield died in 2007, but his most famous literary creation, DI Jack Frost, lives on in a series of prequels written by James Henry and Danny Miller.
Booker judges take note: give me Jack Frost over The Bone People any day.
Jack Frost books by R D Wingfield:
Frost at Christmas
A Touch of Frost
A Killing Frost
Jack Frost prequels by James Henry:
Frost at Midnight
Jack Frost prequels by Danny Miller:
A Lethal Frost
The Murder Map
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow selects his Booker short-list.