This week I focused on MHO of what makes a good mystery: believability, the right sleuth, etc. Today I'll finish with the end, that final wrapping-up that either leaves the reader satisfied and wanting the next book from the author or...else.

Golden Age mysteries tended to have a rather lengthy scene where the sleuth replayed the whole scenario, pointing out clues and often ending with a dramatic accusation: "And that's how I deduced that (bum-bum-bum-bahhhh) the butler did it!"
Possibly because television doesn't adapt well to that, we tend to end pretty close to the climax these days, the denouement brief and often spattered with pithy humor as the characters settle back into their normal routine.

It's hard to strike the right balance: too much explanation at the end or leave the reader unsure of what happened and why? I've read books by well-known, well-paid authors where there needed to be at least one more chapter; it felt like someone had taken an ax and chopped the story off. I've also read books where all the explanation in the world didn't make me believe that ending was probable, even possible.

Here's one writer's confession: I don't like writing the last chapter. Though I know there has to be a life-and-death struggle at some point, I don't like trying to capture it in words, and it isn't part of the attraction of mystery for me. When I watch movies or TV shows, I often leave the room once the killer's identity is revealed. I don't care for the final chase scene, the "book 'em, Dano" moment.

When I write, I make myself do it right, paying as much attention to the end as to the rest, but for me, the fun part is building up to it: planting clues, establishing character, following the sleuths' line of thought. I'll write that final chapter, and I'll do it as well as I can, but once we all know whodunit, I'd just as soon move on to the next novel.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on February 6, 2010 at 4:14am
Those revelation scenes with the show-off detective are the reason I don't read the old mysteries any more.
Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 6, 2010 at 2:24am
I think the final chapter in a book is crucial. It's the one, for me, which decides if I want to read the next book by the author or not. Believability is the key word here. You can have an outrageous plot--if well written, that's okay. But the end has to be believable. It has to 'feel' right. In fact, I kinda like the end chapter to leaving me hanging. . . giving me an incentive to pick up the next book and continue with the story.
Comment by Dana King on February 6, 2010 at 12:51am
I don't really care when the bad guy is revealed. It can be halfway in, as far as I'm concerned. To me, "whodunit?" isn't the only mystery to be solved; often, "we know whodunit, what are we going to do about it?" can be just as much fun to reveal.

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