I've gone on record umpteen times about how much I admire the writing of R.D. Wingfield. Every time someone asks me who my favourite writer is, or who's had the biggest influence on my work, it's his name I bring up. I even made a complete tit of myself on national television, enthusing away like an electrocuted Muppet about how great his books are. And today I got a phone call from my agent that told me Rodney died last night. He was 79.
A very private man, he'd concealed his battle with cancer for seven years.
I first discovered Rodney David Wingfield back when I was a code-monkey working for an internet company. I popped out one lunchtime, looking for a book to read with my sandwich and there, in Dillons was a name I vaguely remembered from the opening titles of A Touch Of Frost on the telly. So I bought the first one in the series, went back to my desk and read while I ate. Fifteen minutes later I was back in the bookshop buying everything else I could find by the man.
I know that Rodney wasn't the biggest fan of the TV series, but I have to admit that I have a soft spot for it. Without it I might never have discovered the books. I can see his point though: on television David Jason's Frost is avuncular and a little unruly; but Wingfield's Frost is irascible, scruffy, rude, petty, funny, kind hearted, filthy, he cuts corners, he cares, he's generous.. He's a walking bag of contradictions in a scruffy mac and tatty maroon scarf, and that's what makes him so human.
Rodney's plots were twisted, layered and interwoven; his characters flawed, funny and human; his sense of pace and dialogue second to none. If can ever manage to be even a third as good a writer as he was I'll consider myself to be very lucky indeed.
My father-in-law had read non-fiction all his life, never saw the point in all that made up stuff, until I finally managed to persuade him to try FROST AT CHRISTMAS -- the book that got me hooked -- and it did the same to him. He devoured all the other Frost books and there's been no stopping him since. Before: non-fiction fanatic. After: fiction freak. That's how good R.D. Wingfield is/was.
And I owe my career to him. I chose Marjacq Scripts to represent me, because when I was looking for a new agent I came across their listing in the Writers' and Artist's Year Book and saw that they represented him. So I queried, saying how much I admired his work. It was my first agent at Marjacq who told me to stop writing science fiction thrillers and try crime instead. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Rodney.
Occasionally Agent Phil would forward on a joke email from him, usually rude, always funny, and in a way I started to feel that I sort of knew him, if only by proxy. That I never met him, is something I'm going to regret for a long, long time. In my life there have only been two people whose work I admire so much I doubt I could have spoken to them without making an arse of myself. One was Spike Milligan, the other was R.D. Wingfield.
Rodney was a hugely talented writer -- for my money the best one the genre has ever seen -- it's a tragedy he wasn't more prolific. FROST AT CHRISTMAS came out in 1984 (in Canada, the UK had to wait till 1989), then a gap of three years before A TOUCH OF FROST in 1987, another five years to wait for NIGHT FROST in 1992, three more for HARD FROST in 1995, and four till WINTER FROST in 1999. And each one is a master class on how to write a brilliant police procedural.
And then nothing.
Finally, a couple of years ago I heard from Agent Phil that there was a new Frost book on the go: cue, happy fan-boy dance. I've been looking forward to a new R.D. Wingfield book for eight years. And I'm so sad I won't be able to tell him how much I love it.
A KILLING FROST will be published posthumously on the 7th of April 2008 by Transworld. From what Agent Phil tells me, it's every bit as good as the ones before. And I'm sure it will be. Apparently after all this time not writing, Rodney even had plans for another Frost book after this one. It's such a huge shame he's not going to be here to write it.
His death is a terrible loss to his family and friends and everyone who loves brilliantly written crime fiction. He'll be sorely missed.
Rodney David Wingfield
1928 -- 2007