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Friday, July 29, 2016

First Frost. James Henry. Corgi Books (2011)

A very enjoyable and entertaining crime story. Denton, a town in England in 1981 is facing a series of armed robberies and the threat of IRA bombs. When a Detective Inspector goes missing, Detective Sargent Jack Frost is assigned the case of a young girl who goes missing from a department store. The investigation is pursued in an unpredictable fashion as Jack Frost follows the leads in his own fashion. When the missing Inspector is located the problems increase and the the threads of the story are neatly pulled together.
This is billed as a prequel to the DI Jack Frost stories written by R.D. Wingfield, the problem is that this is not really true. The cast have the same names and the same context, they are also appreciably not the same cast as those in the original stories. This is not a problem, the cast, context and plot all stand clearly on their own and are strong enough to support a new direction. R.D.Wingfield's Jack Frost had a dark spark, there was a genuinely sharp edge to him, it was part of the striking confidence that R.D.Wingfield had a writer that his leading character was essentially unpleasant and unsympathetic. James Henry's Jack Frost does not have the same shadows, he is scruffy and undisciplined, sharing much more in common with the character from the television series than from the books.
The plot mechanics are very well constructed, the rabies alert sub plot is superb, an apparent dark joke that subtly become something much more substantial. The bigger plot regarding the missing police inspector and the armed robberies is very well paced, the reveals are cunningly set up and the criminals are tough and competent. The IRA bombing campaign in the UK is used with care and smart timing.
Jack Frost is an engaging character, in the throes of a failing marriage and a significant problem to his superiors, he is also a capable and thoughtful investigator. The supporting cast are all given the time and space to make an impact, Superintendent Mullet is not played for laughs or as entirely incompetent. He takes all the opportunities to be ridiculous that he is given, at the same time he is treated with a degree of sympathy that allows him to breathe. There is a large cast in the story and it greatly benefits from the multiple perspectives. They create possible story possibilities that can be explored further and develop the individual context for the series very strongly.
This is a book that should step out of the shadow of the Detective Inspector Jack Frost and embrace the career of Detective Sergeant Jack Frost (no relation) and strike off on its own path. It has the depth to do.

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