Mystery of the Missing Ending

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Right?

Not always. Have you ever had the bad luck of happily reading a book, reaching the climax, turning the page to find out what happens and seeing a message, something like, buy book two to find out what happens?

I have. In both romances and mysteries. And I’ll tell you what happens for me: I never buy that author again.

But those cliff hanger extortion kinds of endings are just the most egregious examples of bad endings. 

More of them are like the one described in a comment in a recent Facebook reader’s group. I don’t have permission to quote the comment so here’s the gist of it. The ending “stunk.” After a big buildup it seemed like they suddenly remembered they had a deadline, made something up and spit it out.

I’ve read a number of books that ended like the one referenced in that Facebook comment. It seems as if the author was bored or tired and just stopped writing when he or she hit the climax and failed to provide a denouement, “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.”

For me, the denouement is necessary for a satisfactory ending. After working on a book for months and writing hundreds of pages, I can believe a writer just wants it to be finished. I can’t believe, though, that any writer wants to cheat their readers so I have to conclude they don’t know and can’t figure out how it all comes together.

Have you ever encountered a less than satisfactory ending in a mystery?

Catherine Maiorisi

Catherine Maiorisi is the author of the NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli Mystery series featuring Corelli and her partner Detective P.J. Parker–two tough women, fighting each other while solving high profile crimes. A Matter of BloodThe Blood Runs ColdA Message in Blood, and Legacy in the Blood are all available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks narrated by Abby Craden.  

In addition to publishing multiple mystery and romance short stories in various anthologies, Catherine has authored four romances novels. Her latest book, The Disappearance of Lindy James, was awarded a GOLDIE for Best General Fiction.


  1. I haven’t. There were complaints about the ending of Tana French’s first book In The Woods to wit: that it was vague. But only if you missed the clues would you not know whodunnit. I don’t like being spoonfed the denouement but some insist on it.

  2. I can’t recall to mind a specific one, but I’ve seen it only once or twice. I don’t blame you for being annoyed. There can be a book two but still have a satisfying ending to book one. Our readers deserve it.

  3. I was the one who didn’t like the end of In the Woods, but then I read it again and loved it, and went on to read all her books. I listened to an interview with her afterwards and she said that she kept it vague because life is vague, and I adore Tana French, but I don’t think fiction is always like life. But that’s probably a different blog post. 🙂

  4. I’ve definitely read books where the ending felt rushed or not fleshed out enough. A bad or unsatisfying ending can ruin my experience of the entire book, even if I loved everything that came before. As someone described it once, you have to “stick the landing” when it comes to the end. And it’s not always easy!

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