By Chester D. Campbell
I just finished typing THE END on the last page of Good, Bad and Murderous, the second book in my Sid Chance mystery series. Frankly, I'm not totally pleased with the ending. I got to thinking about mystery endings and what we expect from them.
One requirement is to tie up all the loose ends. Well, most of them anyway. A reviewer of my first Greg McKenzie book complained that my ending was too pat. Although the reviewer liked the writing, she concluded:
"Every single thread was neatly tied at the conclusion of the book, which felt contrived and implausible."
So now I resolve all the major plot points, but I leave some of the character outcomes for the readers to draw their own conclusions.
In her book How To Write Killer Fiction, Carolyn Wheat says in the Golden Age of mysteries, the author could simply show that the detective knew how everything turned out. She points out how Ellery Queen would gather the suspects in a drawing room and "spend seven or eight closely reasoned pages expounding his theory on who had done what and why."
A feature of the ending for most mysteries these days is the confrontation between the hero (or PI, in my case) and the villain. I provided a double feature for this one. The first turns out a draw, so they meet again.
Carolyn Wheat calls what I refer to as the "wrap-up" chapter The Coda. She talks about Linda Barnes closing her book with a seder, the traditional Jewish ceremonial dinner. I wasn't aware of this, but I've used a dinner with all the good guys in most of my Greg McKenzie books. I also relied on it for the wrap-up of Good, Bad and Murderous.
I've depended on this technique in the past to have the main character say something illuminating, if not profound. I suppose that's what bothers me. I'm not sure what I have written here works. So maybe THE END isn't all that final after all.
How do you like your mysteries to end?