In many crime novels, the plot is resolved in the sense that readers learn the truth about the mystery at hand. The who/how/whydunit is revealed, and that can bring a sense of closure to a story. Sometimes, though, there’s more to be said. So, some authors provide an epilogue to fill a story out. Epilogues sometimes tell what happened next (say, after the culprit’s arrested). Sometimes they tell what became of the characters. They give other information, too, and they can add a sense of wholeness to a novel.
In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, for example, we are introduced to the Boyntons. They’re an American family on a sightseeing tour of the Middle East. Part of their journey includes a trip to Petra, and the family sets out for a tour of that area. On the second day of their visit, family matriarch Mrs. Boynton dies of what seems at first to be heart failure. But Colonel Carbury isn’t completely sure of that, and he asks Hercule Poirot, who’s traveling in the area, to look into the matter. Poirot soon learns that the Boyntons are a dysfunctional family, and that’s mostly because Mrs. Boynton was a tyrannical mental sadist. So, as you can imagine, all of the family members have motives for murder. Poirot gets to know all of them, and puts the pieces of the puzzle together. The story itself ends with the identification of the murderer and motive. There’s also an epilogue in which we learned what happened to the members of the family in the five years after Mrs. Boynton’s death. The epilogue offers some closure to the stories as it sheds more light on the characters.
Richard Hull’s The Murder of My Aunt is the story of Edward Powell and his Aunt Mildred, who live in a small Welsh town. Powell very much dislikes his aunt and would love to leave. But his aunt holds the proverbial purse strings, and she has determined that he should live with her. That doesn’t mean she’s overly fond of him, though, and the two are almost always at odds. One day, Aunt Mildred pushes things too far, and Edward decides to kill her. He starts to work out how, when, and where he’ll do the dead, and is looking forward to what he sees as freedom. But Aunt Mildred is no mental slouch. The question becomes: will Edward succeed? The story includes an unusual Postscript that adds much to it. It’s an innovative approach to ending a book.
Simon Beckett’s Whispers of the Dead features forensic specialist Dr. David Hunter. He decides he needs a change of scene from his native London, and travels to Tennessee’s Anthropological Research Laboratory, also known as the Body Farm. There, he’s hoping to spend time with his mentor, and get some research done. Instead, he is drawn into a series of murders, beginning with a decomposed body that’s discovered near a local cabin. It’s a difficult and exhausting case, and it takes its toll on Hunter. Still, we learn who the killer is and what the motive is. At the end, Beckett provides an epilogue that follows Hunter back to London. Part of the epilogue gives the reader further information about killer; part of it re-orients both Hunter and the reader to London. In the end, we see how Hunter begins the process of moving on from what happened in Tennessee.
Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy is the first of his Department Q series. In it, we are introduced to Copenhagen police detective Carl Mørck. He’s been tapped to lead a newly-created department to be devoted to looking into cases of ‘special interest’ – cold cases. One of the first that he investigates is the five-year-old disappearance of promising politician Merete Lynggaard. It was commonly believed that she went overboard in a terrible ferry accident, but there are now suggestions that she may still be alive. So, Mørck and his assistant, Assad, re-open the case. The truth about Merete Lynggaard has far-reaching consequences, and Adler-Olsen uses an epilogue to discuss them. The epilogue also follows up on Mørck’s coming to terms with what happened during the line-of-fire shooting.
Jen Shieff’s The Gentlemen’s Club takes place in 1950’s Auckland. Istvan Ziegler arrives as an immigrant from Hungary, who’s eager to build his life in New Zealand. He meets sixteen-year-old Judith Curran, who’s come to Auckland to get an abortion. Their lives soon intersect with that of Rita Saunders, who runs a local brothel. All three of them are, in a way, outsiders, and you might say that’s part of what draws them together. They’re soon enmeshed in a dark mystery having to do with a local orphans’ home run by Lindsay Pitcaithly. Working out the truth about the orphans’ home will be dangerous, because PIthcaihly is a powerful man. But in the end, we learn what happened. And in an epilogue, Shieff also tells us what happened to the main characters.
There’s also Shamini Flint’s A Calamitous Chinese Killing. Inspector Singh is based in Singapore, but is sent to Beijing when Susan Tan, First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy in China, requests his help. Her son, Justin, was recently killed in what looks like a robbery gone wrong. Singh isn’t sure what he can do to help, but Susan Tan is convinced that her son was murdered, and she wants Singh to look into the case With his Chinese counterpart, Singh finds out what really happened to Justin and why. It’s a difficult and delicate case, and since politics are involved, it’s got some far-reaching implications. And Flint uses an epilogue to share those implications. She also follows up with some of the characters, giving them (and readers) some closure.
Many other crime novels have epilogues. They can add richness to characters and can help put the story into a larger perspective. They can also offer closure. What’s your thinking? Do you like epilogues? If you’re a writer, do you use them?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Harry Chapin’s Taxi.