I think what grabs so hard in this book is that the good guys really are good guys, especially Stark.

If I Should Die (Joseph Stark)If I Should Die by Matthew Frank

One of my favorite reads of 2014.

Joseph Stark serves in the Territorial Army in the sandboxes of both Iraq and Afganistan and returns home wounded (and how is in itself is a long, slow and positively delicious reveal). Honorably discharged as physically unfit for duty, he becomes a constable in training for the CID in Greenwich. His first case begins as a series of vicious muggings of the homeless, and one of the things I loved about this plot is that the cops know immediately whodunnit. Cops usually do, in fact real police work isn’t much of a mystery, but don’t think for one moment that that fact makes this narrative any less absorbing. They know, all right, but they can’t prove it at first, not even with all the cell phone cameras of modern life and CCTV-laden public spaces of the UK at their disposal. Then the most recent victim dies, and now they are looking for murderers. The tension amps up excruciatingly, especially when the perps escalate their offenses while infuriatingly keep slipping through the grip of the police.

In the meantime Stark is going through physical and psychological rehab (with the best shrink character I’ve ever read), he is exacerbating his healing by acting as if he can chase down perps like any healthy copper, the Army keeps calling with steadily increasing exasperation about his last action in the field, he’s falling in love with his hydrotherapist, and his DS is the nosiest, most prying detective living. I would have popped her one at least once, superior or no, but then I’m not a good soldier, and Stark is the very definition of one.

I think what grabs so hard in this book is that the good guys really are good guys, especially Stark. He was an exemplary soldier and he’s going to be an exemplary CID detective, once he gets over his absolute refusal to ask for help when he needs it, the idiot (one of the nicer things his DS calls him). Detective Sergeant Fran Millhaven is just one of the best women copper characters you’ll ever meet between the covers of a book, and DCI Groombridge is a boss to be admired and emulated. The action scenes, too, are terrific. Stark is not your ordinary, everyday soldier. He was very, very good at what he did, and there is a riveting scene where he could really have put the hurt on a perp and consciously, coolly decides not to because of a conversation he had with Groombridge about the difference between violence in the field against the enemy and violence at home against a suspect. In that moment he crosses over from soldier to CID detective. It is beautiful to behold. (And you’ll love the cane.) Given recent headlines here at home, this book ought to be required reading for every cop in the USA before they’re allowed to carry a weapon.

But Stark is the heart of this narrative. I am so looking forward to meeting him again.

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