By Steve Weddle
Some years ago, when Russel D. McLean and I went to a Mel Gibson film festival, we nearly walked out of that movie called RANSOM. Not because the movie was full of dirty words and Russel's sensibilities were offended. No.
You see, we'd thought the movie was over. False ending. As any movie fan knows, when you put Ronnie Howard together with Mel Gibson and Marky Mark, you're going to have some cleverness. The movie ended, but then it turned a bit. Then there was more.
Some books end abruptly. Some books end a few times. Some books never seem to end at all.
I just finished my first Moe Prager book, which made me think of these sorts of endings. (Of course, the Reed Farrel Coleman book no more made me think of Mel Gibson than a dinner a fine dinner of prime rib makes me think of a bag of neutered weasels, but there you are.) The book comes to a close. Mystery solved. Bad guy confesses. Investigator gets his check. Dinner. Cigars. Drive home safely.
The book may have been satisfying, but the investigator himself isn't. Something doesn't feel right. A piece missing. Not quite fitting. Like that little fleck of a hangnail on your middle toe at three in the morning. So he goes back after things and the story develops a little more, then a little more. Things kinda went where you expected them to, then everything went topsy-turvy. Unlike some Hollywood trick, though, this works. Things move along, not just fragments thrown on at the end, but the story developed more, stretched out to completeness, like taffy at Coney Island.
Other books don't end at all where you expect them. Talk about a book not having the Hollywood ending, have you read this ICE HARVEST? Everyone (well, not the guy what cuts my hair. jerkhole) told me to read it and coupled that advice with this question: "Don't think it's like the movie." I hadn't seen the movie, but my copy of the book comes with Billy Joe Thornbob and Lloyd Dobler carrying a pirate's trunk. So I didn't know what to expect. Which is a good damn thing, because that ending came out of nowhere. (The dude's a chick named "Rosebud." Do NOT tell your friends.)
Contrast those endings with great crime fiction novels -- GUN MONKEYS (haha. thought I'd get through a post without mentioning GUN MONKEYS? haha. Nope. Now drink.) and COTTONWOOD. Both of these books have epilogues. (I don't remember whether they were actually called such or just final chapters, but I've loaned my copies out and can't check.) The wrap-up. Ten years later. A year later. Oh, same thing with THE DEPUTY. A year later.
So the ending: Hero rights the wrong, God's in his Heaven, etc. Good books -- hell, great books -- have ended like this. Other great ones don't. After you've worked through 70- or 80-thousand words, how much weight do you give to the final 10 pages? Have you read great books that ended in an unsatisfying way? Multiple endings?
Do you prefer an ending that wraps everything up neatly or one that leaves you wondering?