John Corey

Created by Nelson DeMille
Pseudonyms include Jack Cannon, Kurt Ladner, Ellen Kay and Brad Matthews

Spy or eye?

JOHN COREY is not, strictly speaking, a private eye. But using the same slightly loosened criteria afforded Dave Robicheaux and a few others on this site, he deserves consideration here by virtue of the wiseass, irreverent, rule-breaking, independent manner in which he operates.

Actually, in Plum Island (1997), the initial entry in this fine series, Corey is on leave and convalescing at his uncle’s home on the north fork of Long Island after being shot in the line of duty as a NYPD homicide detective. The Southold Township chief of police, who has little or no experience in investigating homicides, solicits his aid in investigating the double murder of a young couple known personally to both the chief and Corey. For a time Corey is on board as a consultant, but as the case begins drawing the attention of Suffolk County homicide detectives and agents from both the CIA and FBI (because the two victims were employees of a top secret research facility on nearby Plum Island) his wisecracks and his disdain for incompetent authority quickly rubs everybody the wrong way and the chief revokes his consultant status. But by then Corey has become intrigued by the case and isn’t about to back off. So for the last three-quarters of the book, he technically is operating as an unlicensed private investigator.

In subsequent books in the series, Corey appears as a special contract agent for the fictional federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. But his disregard for authority, his go-it-alone/screw-the-rules attitude, and most of all his wiseass remarks are not held in check one bit. Which is not to say that this series is some sort of light-hearted farce. DeMille’s subject matter is well researched and he builds intricately complex plots often based on unnervingly real dangers. He writes scenes of violence and deep emotion and yet, peppered throughout the dialogue and narrative, are quips and wry asides that literally make you laugh out loud.

The degree to which Corey gets away with some of the stuff he does is, of course, unrealistic. But, as DeMille explains in the forward to Wild Fire (2010), the fourth book in the series, “a John Corey who plays by the rules and goes by the book is not what any of us wants in a hero.”

Still, behind the wisecracks and irreverence, Corey is a tough, relentless, and very astute detective with a laser-focused intensity on taking down any killer he sets his sights on. By the end of The Lion’s Game (2000), the second book in the series, Corey has fallen in love with and marries (in the book’s final scenes) Kate Mayfield, an FBI agent also assigned to the ATTF. Kate is a tough and competent in her own right, although she tends to play by the rules. This makes an interesting counterpoint to Corey’s way of doing things. As the series progresses, however, Corey’s more reckless habits seem to be gradually wearing off on Kate, causing her to follow his lead with notably less reluctance.

Reportedly, DeMille never envisioned Corey to be a series character and he created him as the most un-PC person possible. Nevertheless, Corey proved so wildly popular that demand from readers caused the author to bring him back for more.

I, for one, am extremely glad he did. I highly recommend this series. Any reader who hasn’t discovered it yet should seek out one or more of the titles (probably best to start with Plum Island, then after that it doesn’t matter so much) and I predict you won’t be sorry you did.


Respectfully submitted by Wayne D. Dundee.

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