M. K. WREN – Wake Up, Darlin’ Corey. Doubleday, hardcover, 1984. Paperback reprint: Ballantine, 1990.

M. K. WREN Conan Flagg

   When Corey Benbow, half owner of a kite making business, meets a tragic fate in a late night accident on the ruggedly beautiful Oregon coast, Conan Flagg is neither surprised nor fooled. He knows murder when he sees it.

   Flagg was the first series creation of Pacific Coast novelist Wren, who has also written a science fiction trilogy, mainstream fiction, and a second series about Neely Jones, a small town law officer in the same Oregon coastal setting she long lived in.

   Flagg is something of a paragon of virtues and skills, a sort of liberal Northwest Coast take on Travis McGee. He’s the scion of a wealthy ranching family, owner and proprietor of the Holiday Beach Bookstore, and a licensed private investigator.

   He is also darkly handsome with striking, almost oriental eyes, thanks to a mixed blood heritage. He lives by himself, of his own choice, in a fabulous house on the beach, and is frequently drawn into other people’s troubles, bringing the skills he learned in military intelligence in Cold War Berlin to bear.

   Beautiful Corey Benbow had enemies– mostly the family of Benbow patriarch Gabe Benbow, her father-in-law. Corey is the mother of the son the Benbows want to carry on the family name and heritage, and worse, a thorn in the side of their plans to sell a wildlife refuge known as the Spit as a housing development.

   There’s not much doubt her killer is one of the six Benbows present on the night of her accident, when she left after a confrontation about the fate of the Spit. The only question is which of the six Benbows killed her.

   Although he’s a far cry from Travis McGee, in many ways Flagg has a tendency to use the same high handed tactics and doesn’t mind bending or even breaking laws in the name of justice — or vengeance.

M. K. WREN Conan Flagg

   To be honest, I’ve liked other entries in this series better than this one. The big confrontation at the end seems contrived and rings false, and Flagg comes across as the most self-satisfied and smug sleuth since the heyday of Philo Vance in his righteous wrath. An act of God at the end that was probably meant as irony simply seems heavy handed and pasted on to bring a satisfactory ending to the proceedings.

   It may be the McGee-like justice figures work better in the first person where we are privy to all their thoughts and feelings. With a third person narration, such as Wren uses, the added distance from the protagonist is enough that you may find yourself asking how he is much better than the bad guys, other than his motives.

   Flagg reveals the killer with a particularly nasty bit of business that Vance or McGee would likely have drawn the line at, and one even Mike Hammer might have found a bit outside the bounds.

   That said, Wren is a fine writer. The Oregon setting is handsomely presented and if Flagg is at times a bit full of himself, he is presented as a well developed creation. The motives and plot elements are well handled, and only the denouement is a disappointment, a bit contrived, melodramatic, and frankly preposterous.

   Put it this way: you wouldn’t have accepted it as the ending of seventies television mystery series, much less in a novel.

   Darlin’ Corey is a minor entry in the Conan Flagg series. It’s worth reading, but only if you have read some of the others first and gained some affection for the writer and the series. Don’t skip this one by any means, but don’t let it be your introduction to Wren or Flagg either. She has done much better and so has he.

   Note: The title is taken from the 1941 song “Darlin’ Corey” by John A. and Alan Lomax:

The first time I saw darlin’ Corey
She was standin’ in the door
Her shoes and stockin’s in her hand
And her feet all over the floor

        The Conan Flagg series —

    Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat. Doubleday 1973.

M. K. WREN Conan Flagg

    A Multitude of Sins. Doubleday 1975.
    Oh, Bury Me Not. Doubleday 1976.
    Nothing’s Certain But Death. Doubleday 1978.
    Seasons of Death. Doubleday 1981.
    Wake Up, Darlin’ Corey. Doubleday 1984.
    Dead Matter. Ballantine 1993.

M. K. WREN Conan Flagg

    King of the Mountain. Ballantine 1995.

M. K. WREN Conan Flagg