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by R.D. Wingfield
Bantam, April 2008
400 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 0593060474

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A KILLING FROST, the sixth in the Frost series, was published posthumously: this brings a conflict between the principle of De mortuis nil nisi bonum, and a reviewer's responsibilities - I have given the latter priority. This book has a plethora of plot-lines, and any review which attended only to them would be very lengthy. As the book proceeds the plots pile up; some are quickly resolved, others run on and intermingle. Some of the main ones include the discovery of various body parts, a rapist, the blackmail of a supermarket owner and missing teenagers: in addition there is the on-going battle between Frost and his superior, Superintendent Mullett, who has imported a new DCI, Skinner, to get rid of Frost.

Connoisseurs of the Prologue will be both appalled and amused by the one that opens this book. If one could produce a composite cliche of an opening to the contemporary British mystery it would probably involve the discovery of a body by a dog-walker on a dark and stormy night. Well, A KILLING FROST opens with a dog walker discovering a severed human foot on a dark and stormy night!

The reader is plunged into the welter of cases briefly outlined above and never given a chance to draw breath thereafter. This is the book's main, and possible only, strength and also one of its main weaknesses. As a strength it means that the plot races along and one is certainly never given a chance to get bored; the weakness is that one never really gets fully involved with any of the cases or plot-lines. There is nothing that fully engages either the intellect or the emotions.

Another problem is the uneven tone: the book varies from the comic (Frost's confrontation with his superiors), to the serious (some of the cases), to the naturalistic (the downbeat setting). It would take a writer of genius to manage all these things within one book and sadly Wingfield is certainly not that. Instead, one tends to feel that one has encountered all these individual aspects before and done rather better.

To take just a couple of examples, the sort of comic exchanges between Frost and Mullett are better done by J.M. Gregson in his Peach books, police infighting better done by Raymond Flynn. Wingfield's prose never really rises above the ordinary, and it is not only in the Prologue that one feels it wanders close to cliche.

Given all these problems the book rests, in the final analysis, on the character of Frost himself and I suspect any reader's reaction will be coloured by their response to Frost. Personally I once again find that the character drifts close to cliche - guilt over his broken marriage (his wife is now dead), a scruff, a maverick, anti-authoritarian (at least when the authorities concerned are his own superiors), the rough geezer with a heart of gold, etc. In the hands of the phenomenal David Jason these elements miraculously coalesced to give us one of the great television detectives; on the page they lack this spark.

Despite all these problems, and another is that none of the plot resolutions are either surprising or especially satisfactory, this is not a bad book. The abundance of plots and cases keep the pace up and the narrative suffers from an over-abundance not a lack of energy. Sadly though it never rises above the average and walks far too close to cliche for comfort.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, May 2001

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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