I wonder whether these books could get published today. Frost chain-smokes, eats badly, regularly refers to women as ‘poor cows’ or ‘silly moos’ and is prone to jabbing his finger into someone bending over and calling out: ‘How’s that for centre?’ He’s as far from politically correct as you could get.
He’s also a brilliant, instinctive detective who has no respect for authority and couldn’t care less about taking credit for a case that would boost his career. He just wants to be a policeman. Which is no doubt one of the reasons for his success with readers: he appeals to everyone who goes to work to do a job they’re good at but has no stomach – or time – for office politics. For ‘getting on’.
All six books have exactly the same structure. The weather’s always awful: it’s either freezing, raining or snowing hard. The station is perpetually understaffed, which means Frost never gets more than three hours’ sleep at a time. His superior officer, Superintendent Mullet, is a lickspittle toady who never backs him up, while his sergeants – with one exception – are snide, ambitious jerks anxious to see him fail.
And all six are riveting.
The main reason is that Frost never deals with just one case. He might start with a kidnapping, but before he knows it, he’ll be up to his neck in murders, burglaries, accidental deaths, runaway children and hit-and-run drivers. The crimes pile up relentlessly and Frost, worn-out, sleep-deprived, on his sixtieth cigarette of the day, bounces from one new development to the next, always picking up clues other miss, and always, always, struggling to stay one step ahead of the colleagues doing their best to get him thrown off the force.
I find Frost enormously sympathetic – the ‘poor cow’ and ‘silly moo’ comments aside; they really do belong to another time, even if that was only 1984, when the first book was published – and a truly original creation. The TV series threw out the pace, the slobbishness and the humour – the books are also very funny – and turned Frost into just another conventionally unconventional detective. It was entertaining enough, but it wasn’t the real Frost.
For that you need to read the books.