Thursday, 23 July 2015

Thursday List: The Best Crime Book Endings?




Private Eyes, Angels and others

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I did a couple of entries recently about the William Hjortsberg book, Falling Angel, and said that it had a flatout great ending, maybe the best one I’d read.

Crime writer, expert and blogger Martin Edwards suggested it’d be interesting to make a list of the great crime fiction endings, and that seemed an excellent idea, so here we go. And if ever there was an entry where I’m hoping to be outshone by the comments and suggestions it is this one – so please pile in with your ideas. Note the question mark in the title above… I'm hoping I might inspire some other crime fiction bloggers to compile their own Top Ten lists. 

There may well not be much explanation of the endings as I want to be spoiler-free – but then endings are quite varied, it’s not always just a shock revelation or twist. Too many crime books (particularly, it must be said, in the Golden Age) consist of a group of people, a murder, one of them did it, let’s work it out. Oh.

It’s nice to celebrate the really clever variations on that.

Links are to blog entries where applicable.


1) Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg, obviously. It really is a knockout. Not much makes me gasp after so many years reading and so many books enjoyed, but this one did.
 
 
Miss Pym
Innocent students dancing for Miss Pym


2) Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey. Just when you think you know what has been going on at the ladies’ teaching college, all your ideas are changed in the last two pages. This is what I said about it: it STILL is a startling ending, on what must be a 7th or 8th read, 30 years after the first time. How I wish there had been the internet back then – now, one would instantly go online to see what other people thought of it. I still haven’t read enough about it, and very much hope that some readers/fans will give their views on it below. Did Miss Pym do the right thing? What on earth will become of the key characters? How could Miss Pym be so casual about it?

3) A Kiss before Dying by Ira Levin. It’s not quite the ending - but there is a twist or revelation in this that stands out as one of the very best in my memory.

4) The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie – I decided to confine myself to only one of her books, even though she does specialize in terrific endings (I could do a Top 10 list just of her best endings). And this one I think is comparatively little-known, and brilliant, and has one of her very best villains.


 
Night of the Twelfth
Innocent schoolboys at Gilbert’s school….


5) Night of the Twelfth by Michael Gilbert – I read this one only recently, as recommended by Gilbert fans Christine Poulson and Martin Edwards himself. And the ending confounded me, and has been lingering in my mind ever since.

6) A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell. My favourite of her books, and not a surprise ending, as famously she tells you in the first line what is going to happen. But the final two pages are full of melancholy and beautifully done.

 
Gone baby gone
Looking after the children for Dennis Lehane

7) Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane – for an ending where you want to discuss it with other readers. It’s not a surprise, or a revelation: it’s that a key character makes a controversial decision – was it right or wrong?

8) Reginald Hill, Dialogues of the Dead. This one I really can’t discuss without spoilering, but it’s an outrageous ending…

9) Robert Barnard: Death of an Old Goat A short, clever, very funny book. I said in a blogpost: in the last page or two you wonder how he can end it: and then the final sentence rounds it off with sudden brilliance.

10) Francis Beeding The Norwich Victims There’s a certain kind of twist or revelation that I can often spot coming, but this one completely confounded me, I was very impressed.


As I’ve been writing this, more and more other ideas have been entering my head (there’s a Patricia Moyes and a John Bingham…)  I’m sure I could think of another 10 – but I’m hoping to get some great suggestions from readers….


























29 comments:

  1. What a fantastic idea, Moira! And I couldn't agree more with your choices!! I was hoping you'd mention Gone, Baby, Gone, as that is a powerful ending. So is the ending to Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. And there are, of course, lots of others, too. Hmmm...I'll have to really think about this!

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    1. Thanks Margot - I hope this means we can expect a list on your blog one day soon...

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  2. So glad to see this post, and what a fine list! Among many others, I am keen on the endings of Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare, A Scandal in Belgravia by Bob Barnard, and A Stranger in my Grave by Margaret Millar

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    1. Thanks for the idea Martin and for the suggestions - A Tragedy at Law is a real lawyer's choice if I may so, and of course a good one at that. Agree about Millar, and must look up the Barnard.

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  3. Oh I want to read all of your suggestions now - I love a good ending and so many of them are disappointing. I've read many a book that is looking like a 5-star read until the end. On this topic I once went to hear Geraldine Brooks (former foreign correspondence and now historical fiction writer) and she asked the audience to put up their hands if they hated the last (short) chapter of her book Year of Wonders. About 2/3 of us did and she laughed saying it was the most common thing readers tell her and yet it contains some of the 'realest' content she gathered from her source material.

    As for your actual question...I can't think of 10 off the top of my head but my favourite one in recent memory is Ken Bruen's The Dramatist - I listened to it as an audio book and it was finishing up just as I got to work - I was crossing my building's lobby - in front of the 3 heavily armed security guards who protect the building's inhabitants from whoever it is that wants to harm government ministers or the peons who work for them and IT happened in my ears - I audibly cried out and kind of crumpled down on one knee in complete shock - It is horrible and yet perfect for the book - not a happy ending by any stretch of the imagination but it works

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    1. goodness Bernadette, that's an impressive story about the Bruen. I have only read one book by him, and now am going to have to seek this one out....

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  4. Oh yes, Miss Pym. And like you I've read it many times and the ending still works, but isn't what Mary says near the end the saddest thing?

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    1. Yes it is, I know, I think about it often. There can't be many books that have made such an impression on me over the years....

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  5. Enjoyed this, Moira. I haven't read all these, so more for my list (as if I needed them!). No, Miss Pym didn't do the right thing, and yet one can understand . . . It has stayed with me and I too have wondered what became of those girls. What greater tribute to a writer can there be?
    Lawrence Block's Out on the Cutting Edge surprised me - which doesn't often happen these days. Margaret Millar's Beast in View shocked me. I think Margaret Allingham does good endings: Tiger in the Smoke is excellent.

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    1. Thanks Chrissie - great suggestions. I'm going to have to do some more Millar re-reading with you and Marin both suggesting her. And I'm making a note of the Block. And totally agree on Allingham - there are so many more could have made the list!

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  6. I know it's not exactly a mystery, but I always think Rebecca has an excellent ending. Oh, and Laura. I must be on a first name roll.

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    1. Oh I think Rebecca definitely counts Elizabeth, and yes, great ending. And now I want to re-read Laura too...

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  7. I am thinking of a book where the ending literally gobsmacked me at the end when I realised that it was actually a whodunnit all along. All the clues had been there in plain sight - even the victim - but only at the end did a witty, cleverly written debut novel suddenly transform from a family saga into a whodunit by stealth.

    I'm afraid that even naming the book/author would count as a spoiler. It leaves one feeling emotionally weird.

    The author also does the same trick with her second novel, although that is more of a stunning book in every single respect and I still think it is easily in my Top Three Books I've Ever Read. She then went on to write several actual whodunnits/police procedurals but I still think her best two whodunnits are the ones you don't realise are whodunnits until they're almost over.

    (I bet you've worked out who I mean.... I know you really rate this author!)

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    1. Now you've really got me going Daniel, at the moment I'm baffled. I'm guessing from what you say that this is an author I have featured on the blog? I know it's probably going to seem obvious when I think of it, but right now I'm driving myself mad trying to think!

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    2. A-ha! Gotcha now thanks. I've been meaning to do some re-reading, and you are inspiring me to get down the 1st, and maybe even the 2nd - maybe I was unfair on it!

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    3. I only actually realised it was a stealth whodunit on the second reading - the first time I enjoyed it as a good story, the second time I still enjoyed it but then I realised that all the clues and evidence were there all along.

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  8. How about another clue?

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    1. I needed many clues from Daniel but made it! Modern author, first book came out in 1995. Is that any help?

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  9. Good post, Moira! I'd be at a loss to do a post like this. That said, I want to read Robert Barnard.

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    1. I've just downloaded the Robert Barnard book that Martin mentions....

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  10. Another great list. I could never do a list like this because I cannot remember anything about books for very long. I have read both A Judgement in Stone and Miss Pym Disposes, but I remember little about the books and nothing about the end. So I can cheerfully reread them now. I did read The Man in the Brown Suit recently enough and I agree it has a great ending. The rest are great suggestions for me to read. Someday.

    The only book in the last few years that I remember having an ending that affected me greatly was An Empty Death by Laura Wilson. And some people hated the ending.

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    1. OK, going to have to read that one now Tracy. Unmemorable endings at least mean you can read a book again and still be surprised....

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  11. Hated the Norwich Victims (apart from incidental info re net curtains etc), and thought the twist unconvincing.

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    1. Oh how funny that we had such different reactions! I was so impressed by it....

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  12. Oh, yes, 2,3,4,9 are the only ones I've read (and Miss Pym is the winner). And now so many more to read... ;-)

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    1. Miss Pym bothers me till this day. Such a transgressive ending, as it wouldn't have been called when it was written.

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  13. Can only really recall the Hojortsberg as a gob-smacker. Maybe James Ellroy did it to me with one of his.....scratches head

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    1. Have a think, and see if you can come up with a couple more and then do a blog entry!

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