This morning I find myself pondering ambiguity in crime fiction. (Before you start rolling your eyes and thinking I need to get out more....)

Looking back recently at some books I've really loved, that have stayed with me, there are two main threads running through them: a sense of ambiguity, sometimes in the resolution, but also in the reaction that the characters generate in me as a reader. And social commentary - I'm always looking for books that say something about the circumstances in which they exist.

In terms of ambiguity, books that come to mind are Andrew Taylor's A Stain on the Silence, Asa Larsson's Sun Storm, Karin Fossum's Don't Look Back, many many many of Henning Mankell's books, Shame by Karin Alvtegen, to some extent Peter Temple's The Broken Shore, (there are lots more).

Ultimately I've come to the conclusion that a bit of realistic angst, some social observation / commentary and a touch of ambiguity and I'm there, but I'm wondering if I'm over here in my corner in a minority :)

But my question is, how does an ambiguous response or resolution sit with you?

Do you need to like everybody / somebody in a book?

Do you need that final, all wrapped up neatly, resolution?

And more importantly, anybody got any recommendations?

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I read to escape, but also to filter things I see in real life, if that makes any sense. So I do prefer real-life ambiguity, where not everyone is necessarily likeable (at least not 100%) and although the main plot points may be buttoned up at the end, the minor ones aren't. Or everything is buttoned up, but not the way you wanted or expected them to be. If all books ended in a nice neat package, I think I'd wonder if something was wrong with me - overly pessimistic or something about life!

No recommendations, because it is late and I'm tired. But I've found most contemporary series are good at resolving the individual book's main conflict, but creating another complication for characters that will carry forward into the next book.
I like what Loren D. Estleman says about protagonists: They don't necessarily have to be likeable, but they do have to be interesting. You might want to try Estleman's Amos Walker series. Good stuff. For an even darker and more morally ambiguous take on noir, try Andrew Vacchs's Burke series.
1. Depends on my mood. Or maybe the book itself. If I am emotionally vested in certain characters then more satisfying endings suit me. If I am more ambivelent in my feelings for a lead, say Kathy Mallory, ambiguity seems more fitting. If the ending is not a happy one, or fashioned just to placate readers it doesn't bother me. The more it twists out there, the happier I am.

2. I need to like somebody, but I don't need to like everybody.

3. Not always. Say the ending of Hannibal, weird, sick but I found it perfect, unlike alot of readers horrified by Clarice's choice. Endings that leave a person damaged but surviving, like Crime School, or any of O'Connell's books.

The Mallory series. Denise Mina, Louise Welch, Dashiell Hammett...but I bet you've indulged in most of these!
I'm really glad you mentioned Louise Welsh. I think her books have got such a magnificent sense of place and the reaction to her central characters can be very ambiguous can't it. Thank you for reminding me of Rilke :)
It's good to hear Stephen King and I weren't the only two readers on the planet who liked Hannibal. :)
I don't need complete resolution in a book. I don't need to like everyone either.

My favourite endings...

The Touch of Ghosts by John Rickards and
To The Power of Three by Laura Lippman

In fact, the new John Rickards book should be out any day now and I've heard really positive things about it. I look forward to reading it.
Ordinarily, I'm a sucker for a happy ending and an endearing character. But I love Donna Leon, whose Commissario Brunetti is completely likable but whose Venice--and Italy in general--is so corrupt that even though Brunetti solves the mystery, justice never quite gets served.
Thank you for the great suggestions - I think I'm going to need a new notepad for tracking all of these soon. Now where did I hide my credit card....


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