M. K. WREN – King of the Mountain. Conan Flagg #8. Ballantine, paperback original; 1st printing, January 1995.

   I happened to find my copy of this one soon after posting my archived review of  Seasons of Death, number five in the series. Some of the discussion that took place in the comments that followed was whether this was a cozy series or not. This was based on the fact that not only is Conan Flagg a private eye, but he is also the owner of a bookstore in Portland OR. And not only that, but the bookstore has a cat, which is featured in silhouette at least on the front cover of all of he paperback editions of the series.

   I’m still not so sure about the earlier books, but I can now tell you that King of the Mountain, the eighth and final book in the series is most definitely NOT a cozy. Flagg is a guest at a family reunion in an isolated area of Oregon near Mt. Hood, and neither the bookstore nor the cat are mentioned, except perhaps once and then only in passing.

   The King family, as it so happens, is one of those highly dysfunctional families that makes being involved with them so uncomfortable to outsiders looking in – which includes both Flagg and we, the readers – and murder so inevitable. I’ll start out by saying that the story is a good one, but it’s also a frustrating one. We know as soon as Flagg reaches the mountain lodge where the family is gathering that disaster is soon to happen, but after seventy pages in, it has yet to do so. That’s a long time for any sense of tension to keep building.

   But then, when it does, it’s a method of murder that I have never read in a mystery novel before. I won’t tell you more, but afterward the story becomes a throwback to those old Golden Age mysteries, where the rest of the group are completely snowbound for days on end, all the while knowing that one of them is a killer.

   If this sounds like a story you’d like to read, up to this point I’d agree, and say that you should. But the ending seemed quite an arbitrary one to me, with the killer’s (or killers’) motive not at all consistent with the characters’ profile as established up the point of his/her/their revealing. Wren was a good writer, but I really do think the ending could have been thought out a lot better.