Wicked Wednesday-Unexpected Endings

Jessie: In New Hampshire where some things are ending and others are beginning.

[NEWS FLASH: Jay Roberts is the winner of Annette Dashofy’s Til Death! Check your email, Jay.]

As we continue to discuss the unexpected this month I wanted to talk about unexpected endings. My youngest child graduated from high school this month, and while that was not unexpected, it has made me think about endings and what unexpected things might fly into my empty nest. Which leads me to today’s topic. Wickeds, which book or film have you read or watched that had the most unexpected ending?

Julie: What a great question! I was recently talking about the ending of the manuscript I’m working on, and how it didn’t work. It was surprising not in the “oh, she tricked me” way. Instead it was the “where the heck did that come from” way. She told me about reading a book and loving it until the past twenty pages, and how the turn in the narrative was so awful she’s still upset about it ten years later. So in the “I love this ending and it makes sense” realm, I remember the first time I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and how much I loved how Agatha Christie tricked me. In the “Argh, I hate this” realm, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie ends with Darcy and Elizabeth dressed in their nightclothes, meeting on the moor. I liked so much of that version, but that ending, while romantic, didn’t belong to that world.

Edith/Maddie: I’ve been reading through all of Ann Cleeves work. In one of her Shetland books (I won’t tell you which), the ending shocked and surprised and saddened me – and yet, I could see that she had to do it. I went searching for reader reactions. Oh, were they pissed off! I messaged Ann on Twitter (we met at Crime Bake and I drove her to the airport, so she remembered me), and she explained why she ended the book that way. She’s a master at her craft. I have much to learn.

Liz: I’m probably in the minority here, but I truly hated the ending of Gone Girl. It wasn’t just unexpected, it struck me as so unreal that I couldn’t even pretend to buy it. It was probably one of the only books I ever read where I felt like I wasted my time with the whole thing because of that ending.

Sherry: Liz, I’m in complete agreement with you and it was the book that popped into my mind too. In my own writing, the third book, All Murders Final, had an unexpected ending for me. And if I’d known there would be more books in the series, I wouldn’t have ended it that way.

Jessie: Sherry, I know what you mean about unexpected endings for series! I wish I could have tied things up differently for the first series I wrote for Berkley. In other people’s work, I would say The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I was so shocked, sad, furious, and then in awe of the rightness of the ending. Such a fantastic book!

Barb: I loved Gone Girl, even the ending. For me the ultimate awful ending was Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I felt so tricked. While I was reading the first three quarters of the book, I was telling everyone I met, “You have to read this!” Then I got the the end and I was so mad. It’s the best example I have of when you ratchet the tension up to 10 on word one and keep it there it leaves you nowhere to go at the end but to walk the book right off a cliff. One the other end, I cried and cried at the end of Lonesome Dove, not just because of the ending, but because the book was over and I would never be able to read it for the first time again.

32 Thoughts

  1. If I like reading a series, then I am a devoted reader. A couple of well-known mystery authors wrote shocking endings that threw me, and I stopped reading them for a while.

    Elizabeth George killed off a series regular in With No One as Witness. The senseless murder devastated the main protagonist. This was dealt with in subsequent 2-3 books and I lost interest in reading the series after that.

    And Karin Slaughter abruptly killed off one of two main protagonists in her Grant County series. It was another senseless death that shattered the surviving character who then ends up becoming a lead in a new series,

    1. Deaths of important characters can be a harrowing thing. For me, it often feels like grief in my actual life and a grieving period is needed!

      1. Yes, both the characters and reader grieved the loss. But both deaths were truly gruesome and unexpected to the main plot in the book, so they were memorable jarring.

  2. First, thanks to Annette for the opportunity to read her new book!

    The most unexpected ending in a movie for me had to be The Usual Suspects. Keyser Soze revealed was a jaw-dropper for many who saw the film. Of course, it isn’t the same watching it after you know the reveal but that first time…WOW!

    I can’t think of a book’s ending that shocked me however.

    1. My son figured out the Usual Suspects early on in the movie. I did not. However, I did figure out The Sixth Sense early in the movie.

      1. The surprise of The Sixth Sense was ruined for me before I got a chance to see the movie. However, the movie The Village from the same director, I figured out what the twist was weeks before the movie even opened in the theaters. My sister asked if I wanted to go see it when it came out and I told her no because I already knew what was going to happen. Then I told her when she asked what I meant. It was speculation on my part, but after she saw the movie, she called me and said, “How the hell did you know that?” when I turned out to be correct.

  3. Just in general, I hate cliffhanger endings, especially if they leave a character’s life in jeopardy. Dana Stabenow has done this twice with her protagonist’s animal sidekick, in addition to leaving human characters dead or at death’s door. I read the end of her books first now so there will be no more ugly surprises. Another author, who I will not name but who writes historical mysteries, puts an additional chapter at the end of her books that is nothing but a tease for the next book and always leaves her protagonist or a major secondary character at risk at the end of it. After being tricked this way one too many times, I quit reading her books. That said, if the series book is lighter in tone, I don’t mind an ending that leaves a relationship in doubt until the next one. Thinking of one of Sherry’s endings here, which I loved, and also the ending of the Stephanie Plum novel that doesn’t identify which one is at the door until the next book.

    1. Oh yes, Dana Stabenow is another author with a series I loved reading until she killed off a beloved character.

  4. We watched a French series on Netflix recently, “The Black Spot,” that we enjoyed right up until the last episode in season one and we went, “Huh? Where did that come from?” Completely turned us off from season two.

    Way back in the day “Roger Ackroyd” surprised me in a good way. Liz’s description of GONE GIRL make me glad I didn’t make it through the book. I suspect I would not have been happy.

    1. I hate it when I love a show for almost all of it and then there is a wrench in the works from nowhere! I often wonder if it comes from multiple writers being hired for the same series and perhaps differing​ visions?

  5. Book and movie for me are the same. As a preteen I read Gone With The Wind and ended up crying so hard at the end of the book that my parents debated letting me see the movie. I wanted a happy ending by golly and I must admit, I do still love a happier ending in books and movies. The TV show that left a bad impression at our house was The Glades, a police procedural that had a cliffhanger ending and no epilogue just “series cancelled and that’s it folks.” Endings like those leave me feeling discombobulated for sure!

  6. I’ve had some over the years, but I can’t think of them right now. I’m going to blame it on waking up at 4 AM for the third morning in a row. Don’t know why. This morning, I never really did go back to sleep, either.

  7. I’m impressed by some of your upmarket reading choices! I’m in the hated GONE GIRL camp. While I envied the great twist – talk about finding a way to conquer the muddy middle! – I hated everyone in the book and resented the time spent reading it. But I’ll tell you what I hated more: the mini-series of SHARP OBJECTS. I had to stop watching because for me, it was so relentlessly Southern Gothic it veered into parody. Even some of the names were like, really? It felt forced, inauthentic, and brutally dark. Even remembering it now depresses me. I better go read a Wicked cozy to get some more pleasant images in my mind!

  8. I read a book by Liane Moriarty because the book club wanted to. I liked it up until the very end when she negated everything in the book with a couple of pages. I haven’t been able to read another of her books since!

    1. Readers are people with strong feelings, aren’t they? Most of the time it is a positive for writers, but sometimes it backfires spectacularly! It sounds like that happened in this case for you! Yikes!

  9. I’m with kaitlynkathy in despising cliff-hanger endings, a cheat, dammit. I want a conclusion, a safe spot, sigh of relief. It’s okay to have some threads to tie the next book to, but not a child in a speeding mine cart going who knows where/when.
    Jessie, congratulations to the graduate, class of 2020. They have missed so many of the classic rituals, and have shown creativity in creating new ones, and compassion in working toward a better world. May they make it so. <3

    1. Feeling cheated is one of the worst things, I think! I agree about conclusions working well as a sigh of relief! And thanks for the kind thoughts for my son and all his ilk! I am in hopes of great things for them!

  10. First thing that came to mind was Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution” short story. Totally unexpected ending.

  11. The reason I felt so betrayed when Elizabeth George killed off Helen was because all the previous books took us through how hard it was for Lynley and Helen to get together. She could have at least let them be happy and have the baby, because she killed the baby, too. I dropped Martha Grimes after one of her books ended leaving us to figure out who did it. I can read the news for that! Stay safe and well.

  12. That is a very interesting question. I’m sure as writers you have a very different perspective than a reader only. The only book that ever comes to mind when talking about terrible ending, is the middle book of the Riddle of Stars Trilogy by Patricia McKillip. It literally ended with ” he opened the door and gave a Great Shout.” I was so peeved I threw the book across the room. (I don’t mistreat books!) I had to wait 2(!!!) years to find out what he saw.

  13. As a reviewer, discussing endings falls into the category of spoilers and I really TRY to avoid them. I DID write a recent author to let her know I did not see her ending coming but I will NOT tell you which author nor which book.

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