If I Should Die – what’s the elevator pitch?
Police Constable and Territorial Army soldier, Joseph Stark, returns from war to start a new job in a new town as a Trainee CID Detective in the London Borough of Greenwich, intent on putting injury and loss behind him. But the shadows of his past cannot be so easily outrun, and what begins as an investigation into ‘happy slapping’ attacks on the homeless by a gang of local youths quickly escalates into something more personal, sinister and dangerous. Haunted by nightmares and pain he must conceal from those around him, especially his beautiful hydrotherapist, Stark find his romantic prospects improving in inverse proportion to his physical and mental state. And confronted by the grim reality of murder he struggles to find his way to the truth before his strength fails, all the while pursued by the MoD to face the implications of his last day in Afghanistan, the day that changed his life and threatens to change it some more.
What drew you to writing crime fiction?
It wasn’t a conscious choice. Like many authors before me I have an un-published novel in a drawer; a very different book but with a strong police vein running through it that emerged on its own and I enjoyed very much. That book began with a character and a situation and took on a life of it’s own. If I Should Die was the same. As Stark formed in my head I imagined how his injuries and experiences would alter his outlook and perception of himself and the world around him, and how his sense of right and wrong might help or hinder his reintegration into civilian life. I was conscious of the increasing role of part-time reserves and interested in what motivates someone with a perfectly good career to put it aside and risk all serving their country. It just seemed obvious to me that Stark’s regular job would be the police service and that overlap between these two facets of his life allowed me scope to test his character in the round, his moral compass, his physical capabilities, his thinking and his hopes. Both careers place him outside much of life looking in.
The book is centred on the social underbelly of London – what inspired this setting?
My hope was always for a grounded crime story, centred on everyday fears and urban life that I and the reader might recognise, and to which a Trainee Detective could plausibly contribute. I also felt the crime should be something that Stark, in particular, should abhor. He’s no stranger to death, but given his particular viewpoint the cowardice of random violence against the vulnerable would be intolerable. I considered a more provincial setting but London had so much to offer. I chose Greenwich because I know South-East London and Kent borders the best, and Greenwich has so many layers – the rich history set against the brash modernist backdrop of Docklands and the Millennium Dome, the bohemian chic against the moneyed aspiration, the market, the park, the river, the pockets of life, the street by street juxtaposition of wealth and poverty that defines big cites radiating out across the borough through industry and suburbs. I like how alien if feels to Stark.
In Joseph Stark we have an ex-soldier trainee detective with a lot of physical and emotional baggage – is the topic of soldiers returning to civilian life something that particularly interests you?
It interests me in as much as it’s one part of my adult consciousness. I grew up playing ‘War’ in the playground and building air-fix model Spitfires. As a boy during the Falklands conflict I distinctly recall my excitement at the news that British helicopters had attacked an Argentine submarine, and the sudden sadness on my father’s face. During the first Gulf War I was old enough to realise those dying were my age. Each war since has driven that home. I suppose as a storyteller it’s my job to explore what people do and why, so I would say I’m interested in the nature of service, the empathy and altruism of it. Some of Stark must come from that but he’s not meant as an homage.
What do you enjoy reading?
A short question with no easy answer. Too many things and more than I can. The inevitable result of writing around family life and full time work is the teetering tower of unread books on the nightstand. At the moment I’m reading Canadian Astronaut, Chris Hadfield’s, memoir. Before that, Dodger by James Henry Benmore. I’m not genre specific. I could list beloved books but it might descend into a rambling Oscars-style speech with obscure references, tears and the lasting impression that I’m more than slightly unhinged. Time to say thanks and get off stage…