Revelation number nine: detecting a good ending

A blogging prompt I saw a while ago was ‘describe a recent Aha! moment’. None of you want to relive the last time OneMonkey burst into the room singing Take On Me (least of all me) so I’ll take that to refer to a revelation of some kind. Maybe it’s down to me writing some crime stories recently but I find I’m working out the culprit more often recently, when I’m reading detective novels. Not that I was always unaware till the last moment, but I’m definitely getting it right more often, working it out earlier in the book, and also figuring out motives and details to a certain extent too. Perhaps the writing mind is beavering away in the background working out plausible ways to get out of the situation, as though I was writing the novel, not reading it.

The big exception (there’s always one) is Reginald Hill’s Pictures of Perfection, which starts with the description of the crime then goes back a couple of days to describe the events leading up to it, which involve other crimes (some of which I did figure out). The sleight of hand involved, and possibly also the idea from the start that you know what’s happened so you’re not there to figure it out, you’re there to enjoy the ride, meant that the ‘real’ ending was as much of a surprise to me as if it hadn’t been included at the beginning. That takes some doing, and I doff my trilby to Mr Hill with great pleasure and an elegant flourish.

There are some readers who feel cheated if they don’t work out who did it, others who feel cheated if they do (at least with more than a few pages to go). I enjoy puzzling it out, there’s a real sense of achievement if I get to the end and find out I was right all along (though I rarely mind if I was wrong, as long as I’ve enjoyed myself along the way). The only caveat is that there has to be ‘an Aha! moment’ – the solution needs to hit as things slot into place, rather than be handed to me on a plate or ringed with neon arrows leaving no room for doubt. Why did I decide to write a detective novel this year?

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