Vicious, apparently motiveless attacks target defenceless down-and-outs in South London. But when one of the victims dies from his injuries, it's murder . . .
For Joseph Stark, the Met investigation team's newest detective, death is already all too familiar. Wounded in an attack that killed his comrades, Stark has been haunted by nightmares since his return from the Afghan frontline.
Just trying to recover would be struggle enough, but Stark also has to deal with the rigours of a murder investigation while navigating the rivalries and loyalties of his new department.
In a world crowded with police procedurals it’s sometimes hard to imagine there being room for something new. While Matthew Frank’s debut novel IF I SHOULD DIE traverses some familiar procedural ground he uses this structure to introduce a startling new character and reveal London and Londoners in a distinctive style and voice.
Joe Stark is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He has returned home after being seriously injured in a fire fight but has shortcut his recovery to rejoin the police as a trainee investigator. The heart of the novel is Joe’s journey and his battle with the nightmares and physical impediments which plague him as he tries desperately to create a new post-military life. The structure and tone of the novel reflect Joe’s stubborn and reserved personality and, as a reader, it is easy to become as frustrated as his colleagues and therapists by his stubbornness and reticence. Reflecting this, the narrative pans away from Joe whenever he is forced to reveal his past, so as not to reveal his secrets.
The crime element of the novel is engaging and well handled. What begins as a series of beatings of homeless people by a group of disaffected youth quickly spirals into a series of murders with broader implications. While there are twists and reverses, Frank does not pull back from the boring procedure – walking around a crime scene, digging through rubbish bins, watching hours of CCTV footage – which gives the team’s wins some value. And as the novel proceeds that team emerges strongly, particularly Stark’s supervisor DS Fran Millhaven and her boss DCI Goombridge. As part of this team, Joe, as it turns out, is not a half bad detective and a number of times (maybe too many) he comes up with the idea that gives the case a break.
IF I SHOULD DIE is a confident and well-written debut. On the surface this is a Bill-like police procedural, walking the mean streets of Greenwich. But the heart of IF I SHOULD DIE is Trainee Investigator Joe Stark and an absorbing exploration of loyalty, duty and honour.