Matthew Frank: If I Should Die (2014)

If I Should Die

I’ve seen so many rave reviews of this crime novel, that I had to pick it up. It’s a police procedural, set in London. I’m not sure whether this is a first in a series but it’s possible. The main character is trainee detective, Joseph Stark, a twenty-five-year-old Irak and Afghan veteran, dealing with heavy PTSD. He’s still recovering from an ambush that cost the lives of his comrades and has left him scarred and wounded.

When Stark begins his work at the precinct, repeated attacks on homeless people are worrying the police. When one of the victims dies, the investigation intensifies. Things get chaotic when a homeless man confesses that he’s murdered someone. How are these attacks linked and who are the perpetrators? Only when the police find out that the homeless man is a veteran (Falkland), do they make progress, as Stark is able to communicate with him.

The book offers some interesting insight into what happened and what happens to veterans in Britain. It also explores youth gangs and homelessness. The characters are realistic and likeable. The writing’s tight, the social commentary pertinent. But – I was the wrong reader for this. The book is more than just a crime novel, it’s a character study of a young veteran with PTSD. All the reviews I read, praised that aspect, called it new and gripping. Unfortunately I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve come across the same character in books, movies, and TV series. Admittedly, more movies than books but nonetheless, the PTSD Afghan or Irak veteran has almost become a cliché. This novel adds nothing new. The worst parts for me were those dealing with the ambush in Afghanistan. I’ve seen too many movies dealing with this to find it of any interest. Maybe it’s unfair, but I felt I had to say this because I’m sure, there are others with my interests who might not find this part of the novel original.

So, if you’ve never watched a film about recent wars – this novel could be for you. It doesn’t only show what PTSD means, but it makes it very clear that even decorated veterans may very well end up homeless because nobody cares what happens to them once they have done their duty. I still enjoyed parts of this book because the writing is assured, the investigation and the social commentary are interesting and the characters are appealing. However, I found it was too long (460 pages). Did I find it gripping? No, but sometimes, interesting is enough.