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Book Review: NOTHING'S CERTAIN BUT DEATH by M. K. Wren

An IRS auditor is found dead in the freezer of a restaurant whose owner was being audited for potential tax fraud. The Holliday Beach Police have a suspect ready at hand. Almost a dozen witnesses saw Brian Tally, the restaurant’s owner, in a violent argument with the auditor the night before the body was discovered. To make matters worse, the deceased wrote Brian’s initials on the freezer door in his own blood. Only Conan Flagg, bookstore owner and amateur detective, can unravel the dark secrets of each witness and prove Brian’s innocence.

NOTHING’S CERTAIN BUT DEATH is the fourth book in the Conan Flagg mystery series. Originally published in 1989, the book feels a bit dated with it’s references to pay phones, lack of computers, and the fact that everyone chain smokes. But, if you can push aside those anomalies, you’ll find it to be an enjoyable mystery. Wren creates a cast of characters that are fun, if not a bit stereotypical. The elderly lady who tries to look younger and richer, the lazy police chief who refuses to look past the potential evidence in front of him, and a restaurant owner who is a heavy drinker are just a few of the stock characters that you’d recognize from dozens of other novels in the genre.

But, it is Conan Flagg that really makes NOTHING’S CERTAIN BUT DEATH, as well as the whole series, shine. Wren has gone to great lengths to forge a character that is intricate, passionate, and mysterious. He values his privacy, and his status as a licensed private investigator is known only to a few close friends. Watching Conan Flagg sift through the clues and red herrings in this mystery is a treat.

I first discovered the Conan Flagg series in the early 1990’s when the book was newly published. I’m proud to say that I once owned all eight paperbacks in the series. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they have been re-released on ebook. Although distinctly dated now, NOTHING’S CERTAIN BUT DEATH hasn’t lost its charm. Although not the best book in the Conan Flagg series, it is a nice addition.

If you are curious about the Conan Flagg series, I’d suggest starting with CURIOSITY DIDN’T KILL THE CAT.

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