If I Should Die
PublisherPenguin
Date Published01 January 2015
 
 
ISBN-101405917512
ISBN-13978-1405917513
Formatpaperback
Pages480
Price£ 7.99

If I Should Die

by Matthew Frank

Afghan veteran Joe Stark is recovering from physical and psychological wounds while trying to qualify as a Met detective. The TA soldier and policeman is assigned to investigate a series of apparently random attacks on ‘dossers’, but as Stark struggles to deal with his own problems, the case explodes into murder.


Review

Matthew Frank’s powerful debut novel tackles social problems head on, unemotionally portraying the casual youth violence that blights many inner city areas. The characterisation is outstanding and the dialogue absolutely authentic whatever section of society he is dealing with. And he exposes for the dreadful fraud that it is the so-called ‘Military Contract’ between Parliament and our armed forces, highlighting the evasions and downright failures to deliver of the politicians – and the indifference of a public whose only understanding of modern war comes through brief new clips.

Frank chooses an unusual lead character to make his points. Joe Stark is a uniformed policeman. Bored with provincial bobbying, he has joined the Territorial Army. Postings to Iraq and Afghanistan have left him physically and mentally scarred. Discharged from rehabilitation, he has switched to the Met and is training to become a detective, despite ongoing physical problems and PTSD flashbacks which leave him reliant on drink and painkillers and anxious to avoid the scrutiny of his new colleagues.

He is assigned to review a series of apparently motiveless attacks on down-and-outs in South London. Then one of the elderly victims dies from a brutal beating – and the case is now one of murder. A second killing follows before another of the victims – a decorated former airborne NCO – fights back and Stark comes to realise there is far more at stake than a vicious gang of youngsters preying randomly on the weak of society.

Frank’s research is as immaculate as it must have been exhaustive. I doubt if there will ever be a better portrayal of PTSD, a better understanding of the logic and motivation of soldiers – and their feeling of abandonment and rage when rehab is over and they are left to fend for themselves in a strange and often threatening civilian environment.

This empathy extends to the police too. From the balanced and clever DCI who uses sympathy as an interview technique, through the hard-assed female DS to the coppers on the beat, they are portrayed realistically – decent men and women doing the best jobs they can to safeguard the public. 

This is apparently the first title in a new series. If Frank can reproduce the intensity, outstanding characterisation, passion, perfect dialogue and pinpoint plotting – all leavened with the compassion and humour of his debut – he will certainly be a writer to watch.

Reviewed 07 March 2015 by John Cleal