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.

19 thoughts on “Matthew Frank: If I Should Die (2014)

  1. I think what you are talking about–this sort of character becoming a cliché is a very real thing. Given the war (s) and its (their) cost, we are bound to have veterans who’ve experienced life changing moments, but how to translate that to book w/o the clichés? I’m not an author so I have no suggestions, but when I see a book and a veteran with PTSD is mentioned, I pass. It’s like the Vietnam vet in the 70s. They pop up like mushrooms but somehow the characters lose substance when they hit the page.

    • Unfortunately, that’s how I felt about this aspect of the novel. It also reinforces the idea that most veterans have PTSD. Thinking of someone like Andy McNab I’d say, that’s not entirely true. Maybe he’s extreme, as he was SAS. A great many soldiers struggle to get back into society but they don’t suffer from PTSD. In a way, if this is a series, book two might be better.

  2. I like your review. In the social media world we always seem to get caught up in thinking that we need to love and absolutely adore a novel which is why I stopped rating books on my blog – i knew people were being turned away from perfectly good books I rated 3 star…☹️

    • Thanks. I’m glad you liked it. I know what you mean. I think the right reader will like this more and I hope my review didn’t turn those away. I didn’t mind reading it. Not every book can be an absolute winner for everyone.

  3. I’m probably not the right reader either. It’s a shame about the cliche, but true.
    A book has to be really good for me to invest in that many pages.

    Caroline, I just finished watching “Damages.” Wow, so good.

    • I’m glad to hear you liked it. I thought it was terrific and hadn’t even seen it mentioned much.
      I can’t say the book was bad but not as original as they said and way too long.

  4. Unsurprisingly, it sounds as if veterans in the United Kingdom are having similar experiences to those in the United States.

    I agree that gripping is not necessary for me to enjoy a book, interesting and creative are two characteristics that I am look for.

    • According to this book, it’s worse in the UK than in the US but I was aware that it’s not easy for American veterans either.
      I didn’t mind that it wasn’t gripping as it was well done.

  5. Wonderful review, Caroline. I loved the way you have described that the characters are likeable, the book is well written, but the PTSD part of it might be cliched. I agree with you – if one has watched recent war movies, one is so used to that theme now. I even watched a movie where a woman solider returns from the war and she is not able to get back to normal life.

    • Thanks, Vishy. I really think it’s not a book for people who watch recent war movies. 🙂 Now I’m really curious – which movie was that. I don’t think I’ve seen it.
      I still hope the review will make some people pick this up as its really not a bad book. Some of it reminded me of a movie with Michael Caine. Harry Brown. Really bleak but so good.

      • I am not able to recall the name of that movie. So I tried googling, but I am not able to find it. I will check my DVD collection and come back and tell you the name of the movie later 🙂 I think you will like it – it is nice.

  6. Pingback: Cryptoquote Spoiler – 02/25/16 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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