By R. D. Wingfield; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
This police procedural begins and ends at the same moment in time. An elderly homeowner calls emergency and tells the dispatcher that he’s being attacked by an intruder in his home.
When the police arrive, they find one of their own shot and bleeding on the floor: Detective Inspector (DI) Jack Frost.
This novel covers four days on Frost’s beat just before Christmas in a once picturesque market town undergoing redevelopment 70 miles from London.
His boss, Superintendent Harry Mullett, is ambitious, political and absorbed in the trappings of success, whether it’s his new blue Jaguar, his tailored uniform or his opulent executive suite that comes across as “a silken patch on a manure sack.”
Advancement, even at the expense of his division, is Mullett’s focus.
He sees the shabby, wrinkled Frost, who hates paperwork, forgets deadlines and has little respect for authority, as a blot on his efficient organization.
When eight-year-old Tracey Uphill, the daughter of a local prostitute, goes missing after Sunday school, Mullett puts Frost’s efficient, organized and by-the-book peer, DI Allen, in charge of the search.
Life throws competing priorities at even the most planful and meticulous among us.
Allen gets a virus and has to be hospitalized. Detective Constable (DC) Clive Barnard, 23, nephew of Chief Constable Barnard and fresh from two years on patrol in London, arrives for his first day of work in the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). With Allen’s illness, Mullett is forced to assign him to Frost.
Much as Mullett hammers on Frost to solve the missing child case, other things keep cropping up: the skeleton of a man who went missing 32 years earlier with £20,000 belonging to the Bennington Bank; the murder of a man connected with the robbery; a jewelry heist on main street; the discovery of a thief taking electronics equipment from a local factory, among others.
Frost is a delightful character who makes this story work. He knows exactly where he belongs in life — and it’s where he’s at. He’s irreverent, never takes authority seriously, is distractible and curious. He has compassion with victims and survivors; he pays attention to his co-workers and their families. He’s well-loved and world-wise.
Author R. D. Wingfield originally planned to have Frost die in this book but was persuaded to leave the book open-ended. This book was followed by A TOUCH OF FROST (1987), NIGHT FROST (1992) and HARD FROST (1992), WINTER FROST (1999) and A KILLING FROST (2008).
An ITV series called “A Touch of Frost” starring Sir David Jason as Frost was based on FROST AT CHRISTMAS.
About the Author: R. D. Wingfield (1928 – 2007)
R. D. Wingfield worked for the Petrofina oil company by day and wrote radio plays by night. His first script, “Our West Ladyton Branch,” was purchased by the BBC in 1968. When two more were commissioned, Wingfield resigned from Petrofina to write full-time.
In 1972, Macmillan Publishers invited him to write a book. FROST AT CHRISTMAS was the result. Macmillan rejected it. It wasn’t published until 1984 in Canada.
Wingfield preferred writing radio scripts to books. Between 1968 and 1988, he wrote more than 40 radio mystery plays, but stopped when the popularity of radio declined and the success of his books grew.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002. His sixth and final book, A KILLING FROST, was published after his death.
In 2011, with the approval of the Wingfield family, prequels were published under the name James Henry: FIRST FROST (2011), FATAL FROST (2012), MORNING FROST (2013) and FROST AT MIDNIGHT (2017). FIRST FROST was written by James Gurbutt and Henry Sutton under the James Henry pseudonym. The others were written by Gurbutt alone.