James Henry – First Frost

Denton, 1981. Britain is in recession, the IRA is becoming increasingly active and the country’s on alert for an outbreak of rabies.

Detective Sergeant Jack Frost is working under his mentor and inspiration, DI Bert Williams, and coping badly with his increasingly strained marriage, which is probably not helped by the fact that he never goes home…

Superintendent Stanley Mullett has been at Denton only six months and is desperately trying to restore order within the chronically depleted ranks, while refurbishing the dilapidated Eagle Lane HQ.

But DI Williams is nowhere to be seen, and DI Allen has failed to return from his walking holiday. So when a twelve-year-old girl goes missing from a department-store changing room, Mullett has no option but to put DS Frost in charge of the investigation.

First Frost is a prequel to the Inspector Frost series written by R.D. Wingfield. James Henry is a pseudonym for James Gurbutt and Henry Sutton. I haven’t read any of the original Wingfield books, but have watched some of the TV series, A Touch of Frost, in the 90’s. I can’t recall too much of it, mostly I just remember the wonderful David Jason and the general atmosphere of the series, but not any other specific characters. In my memories the atmosphere and colour tones of the TV series, were gritty and grey. That atmosphere is captured perfectly in this book. Set in the early 80’s, this time frame is a little too early for any concious memories on my part, but it does seem familiar from all the series and documentaries I’ve seen about the era.

I adore this hard-bitten, gruff and cynical version of Frost, though I gather from articles I’ve read comparing the two, that this is true to the literary version of Frost, as the TV version is somewhat kinder and more likeable. While that incarnation of Frost is fantastic, this version fits the era and the story better. Hanlon and Clarke are great sidekicks. I love Clarke’s ambition and the way the writers don’t shy away from putting her in some pretty nasty situations due to her gender. This isn’t our modern society, this is a time when gender inequality was rife and feminism had a long way to go to reach all its goals. The book is true to the era it’s set in and evokes some of the political climate as it shows some of the effects of the financial slump of that age and, most powerfully, emanates some of the menacing threat the IRA formed. The fear and belief that the IRA is behind a lot of the events in the book, is brought back into focus again and again. It was enlightening for me, as I’m not that familiar with that aspect of British and Irish history, and I’d never realised how all-encompassing the threat was.

Due to the absence of the station’s DI’s, Frost has to deal with a plethora of cases, with a variety of crimes. It’s not just a kidnapping whodunit or a murder mystery, there’s assault and robbery as well. Yet despite the diversity of the cases, it all fits together and they are all part of the puzzle. I love an intricate crime plot and First Frost delivers in spades. While some of the cases prove relatively straightforward to solve, the way they all fit together is kept a mystery till the end and it’s this mystery that will keep you turning pages.

The book ends on a bang. I found it somewhat of a cliff hanger and hopefully the next one clarifies it more and maybe sheds some light on the Denton-based IRA connections touched on in the book. First Frost was a highly entertaining read and if you like traditional British detectives, like A Touch of Frost, Inspector Morse or Prime Suspect, I recommend you give First Frost a read, as it’ll be straight up your alley.

This book was sent to me by the publisher.

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  • I'm a keen fan of both the Wingfield books and the TV series. I'm often a bit wary of continuations/extra stories written in a series by a different author, but after reading your review, I might give it a go!

    Thanks.

  • Thank you! I'm glad I convinced you to give it a shot!