RARA-AVIS: police procedurals: Wingfield, Blauner

From: Joy Matkowski ( jmatkowski1@comcast.net)
Date: 13 Sep 2002

1. Blending BritNoir and Police Procedural, I read R. D. Wingfield's _Winter Frost,_ the fifth book about Detective Inspector Jack Frost of the AFAIK apocryphal Denton, England. I understand that the author hasn't written more books because he's got a TV series based on this character and other lucrative mass-media interests. This book, at 508 pages, is the longest so far, with enough cases to investigate and plot twists to last a TV season.
    It's definitely a police procedural, with little of Frost's life beyond the job. Well, he may have no life beyond the job because he's forever putting in double shifts and worse, as his sycophantic boss volunteers staff to an interagency drug task force to curry favor with his boss while some killer is stalking women who are out late and another killer is doing away with children. The police station, procedures, interactions, and bureaucracy seem accurate except for the absurdities of some of the characters, particularly Frost's boss and his assistant, and, of course, except for the homicide rate in this town. (A blurb on the back by someone I never heard of: "the most accurate picture of police work in crime fiction today.")
    It's also a hilarious comic novel. Frost is a shambling slob who makes a poor impression, he cannot handle his paperwork, and he's rudely non-PC in practically every way possible. Yet, he really cares about his work, which is why he puts in so much unpaid time, and behind the pottymouth is a heart of gold.
    The only similar series I can think of is the long-ago Inspector Dover, who IIRC was a worse slob and not as dedicated to policing. I had been wondering whether a hardboiled police procedural could be funny, and I decided yes.

2. Moving on to NYC, I read Peter Blauner's _Slow Motion Riot_, about a probation officer. I discovered early on that I'd read it before, I guess soon after it was published in 1991. I didn't remember the plot, just the fine touches, such as the protagonist's Holocaust-survivor father who had a cellar stockpile of canned goods and Saltines. The environment sounds like every government office of my acquaintance, and the work resembles what a classmate with the job but in a tony suburban county described (she quit in the early 1980s as the Nixon-era enhancements--LEAA?--were cut back and caseloads grew beyond where she felt she had a chance of accomplishing anything). A good book, well written, but disheartening.

3. I started another police procedural last night, but now I can't find it. I wasn't that wild about the first few chapters, but I didn't dislike it enough to throw it out the window while I was sleepwalking. I suppose it'll turn up as soon as I pick out another book and get to page 50 or so.

Joy, reading away

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