The Futility of Mystery

Years ago, I sent an e-mail to my brother. It said, in part, this:

Dude. I know exactly how Dark Tower is going to end.

Dark Tower, of course, is the seven (well, eight and change, really) book series by Stephen King, the man’s masterful magnum opus. My brother and I are both big King fans, and Dark Tower in particular was our favorite. At the time, I believe either the fifth or sixth book of the original seven-book run had just come out and I’d had an epiphany.

In the e-mail, I told my brother the precise last sentence of the series.

And I nailed it. Down to the punctuation.

I don’t write this to impress you with my powers of prescience (but c’mon — you’re impressed, right?), but rather to introduce something I like to call the Futility of–

Oh, hell — you read the title to the BLog post, right?

Here’s the thing: I know exactly, precisely how the I Hunt Killers series will end. I’ve literally written the last ten pages already. And it occurred to me the other day one of you is going to figure it out before then.

Most people who’ve read Killers are surprised by the reveal of who the killer is at the end. Yay, me. A very few have claimed to have figured it out right from the get-go. Good for them. Hey, it’s gonna happen. There’s nothing new about this — I’m sure there were fans who figured out Agatha Christie’s mysteries early on, too.

The difference today, of course, is (say it with me) the Internet. When ol’ Agatha was writing, there was no easy way for the smart-ass who figured it all out to broadcast that to the world. Me? I live in terror of the day when some guy out there has a brainstorm and tweets, “LOL! Totes figured out ending to #ihuntkillers series. Check my blog for deets.”

Fuck me.

There are so many people reading books, watching TV shows, etc. that it’s just a question of odds — someone out there is going to have a brainstorm and figure out the clever ending that the novelist/screenwriter/what-have-you has sweated night and day to develop. And with the reach of the ‘net, they can spoil it for everyone. They probably don’t intend to; they’re just excited to share an insight with the world. But it ends up a spoiler.

That seriously messes with me. There’s a part of me that says, “Why even bother trying to put in a clever twist or a cool plot turn? Someone’s going to see it coming and tell the world.”

Sometimes, yeah, it seems absolutely futile to put together a mystery. No matter how unexpected and bizarre your ending, to someone out there, it’s a foregone conclusion. Inevitable.

I certainly don’t begrudge people figuring this stuff out. After all, when I got to the last page of that (then-) final Dark Tower novel, I was thrilled to see that my prognostication was spot-on. And while I hadn’t told the Internet-at-large, I did technically spoil the novel for my brother. (Um, sorry, dude…)

Ultimately, all we can do is tell our stories and hope that, even if spoiled, they will still provide a measure of satisfaction for our readers.

And with any luck, the fact that Jazz turns out to be a clone of Billy, created in a government lab as part of a program to turn sociopaths into soldiers will catch you all by surprise at the end of the last book.

Oh, damn.


  1. I’m one of those people who figure out the ending of mysteries all too often and am correct about my hunches. Maybe it’s just because I read a lot of them and let’s face it, every single story has been done already. The only person I can think of who has, completely caught me off guard up to the very end was JK Rowling. She surprised me every single time (except for RAB’s identity, and the location of Slytherin’s locket. Figured those out on my own and was quite proud of myself for doing so).

    Even I Hunt Killers, though I have to agree the mystery was done pretty well, I sort of guessed it from the moment the killer was presented to us who it would be. To me, it was pretty obviously. There was only one thing that made me doubt myself, and that was [REDACTED].

    But I digress, I don’t think it’s about guessing the ending that makes a mystery novel bad or good. Even if I’ve guessed the ending, what makes it great is the process of getting there and of course character development and the stuff surrounding it. A twist is always good, but even when I anticipate the twist and know at the back of my mind what’s going to happen, I still close a well done novel with a satisfied sigh and get that hollow feeling, that one that you know you’ll never get an experience like that ever again, not even if you read it a second time (Though a second time is still great!)

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Mars! I agree that the journey is as important as the destination…I just like the destination to rock, too!

      I hope you don’t mind that I edited your comment — just in case someone who hasn’t read the book or hasn’t figured out the mystery yet stumbles upon it! 🙂

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