Wednesday, November 26, 2008

R. D. Wingfield

by Barbara D'Amato

R. D. Wingfield, born in 1928, was working in the sales office of an international oil company and writing radio plays in his spare time. His first, Compensating Error, was produced by the BBC in 1968. His plays became so successful that by 1970 he gave up his day job to write.

Wingfield was a very private man. I’ve not been able to find a photo of him, other than a very early one.

His first novel, FROST AT CHRISTMAS, introduced Detective Inspector Jack Frost, Denton Division. Wingfield had intended the book as a stand-alone, planning to kill Frost off at the end of the book, but fortunately for readers, changed his mind. There followed:

A TOUCH OF FROST
NIGHT FROST
HARD FROST
WINTER FROST
KILLING FROST
.
Frost gets no respect.

Frost is bawdy, slovenly, humane, insulting, and surprisingly humble. He ignores his boss, and steals his cigars. When he sees somebody bent over a desk, he gooses him or her. He’s an equal opportunity gooser. In HARD FROST, he appears in his superior’s office in a shower of cigarette ash. “There he was. Detective Inspector Jack Frost in the same battered mac, a button hanging loose, and an old scarf trailing from his neck.” But he’s not Columbo. He’s a far more complex character. He is insubordinate, and devious in evading directives and budget restrictions, generous to people who have broken a law but need help more than punishment.

In the end, Frost finds the bad guy, usually by sheer reasoning ability, which few of the people around him recognize. It’s not just that Frost gets no respect; he doesn’t ask for it. In fact, he permits or even plans for colleagues to receive the credit for his solutions. He’s interested in stopping bad people from doing bad things. He doesn’t care what he looks like or what people think of him.

This series is a wonderful example of the police procedural in which several crimes are being pursued at the same time. In terms of witness and suspect characterization, it goes well beyond its ground-breaking predecessor, John Creasey’s Gideon series. The social and physical background is brilliantly rendered. It is a lesson in how to plant clues and how to interweave plots.

I realize I’m not conveying what fun this series is. Frost cannot be summarized. Read one of the novels and meet him.

Wingfield died in 2007.

20 comments:

Picks By Pat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Picks By Pat said...

I read my first Wingfield novel (Hard Frost) about six months ago, and found his Frost character to be a delightful curmudgeon-like hero. I was sorry to hear of his passing but glad that I have several more Frost novels yet to read (and delight in).

His books would make a great entry in someone's Forgotten Friday blog, don't you think?

12:56 PM

Simon Wood said...

I'm a big RD fan. He wrote some great plays for BBC radio and I've just ordered a Killing Frost in England.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Picks by Pat, you are right. Perfect for a Forgotten Friday.

I'm glad to hear from you and Simon Wood. Why RD is so little remembered I just don't know.

maryh said...

And here's hoping that you and yours have a wonderful, peaceful and healthy holiday time, and that you each get a large Christmas goose!

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