First-person novels/stories where the narrator dies (spoilers)

Usually, a first-person narrator doesn’t die at the end of a book or story. I know a few people who only read first-person books for precisely this reason, because they don’t want to be depressed at the end. But this isn’t always true! What novels or stories can you think of that have a first-person character who dies or is moments away from death at the end?

I can think of a few, but I don’t want them to show up in spoiler boxes in the mouseover.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity is a classic example.

The one that comes to mind is one I can not recall the name of. In it, a friend of the family tells the children about the time he went hunting tigers. He recounts just how things went wrong and how he was trapped by the tiger.

“And then what happens?”, asks the oldest"Why, the tiger killed me, my dear, and my ghost is telling you this story, dear boy."What was that story called? The Tiger, by A. E. Coppard? I am not sure.

Also, more along the lines you are asking about, Joe Zabel (Penultimate comic-book mystery writer) mentioned Aupres De Ma Blond, by Nicholas Freeling.

I can’t describe it any better than Zabel did, so let it suffice that it is what the OP describes. However, that does not end the novel.

The first one that springs to my mind is:

The Murder of Roger Aykroyd, by Agatha Christie, where the narrator, Dr Shephard, turns out in the end to be the murderer. He isn’t actually dead at the end of the novel, although he’s just about to go off and commit suicide.

Shaking Hands with Lefkowitz, by Melvin Foster, is a murder mystery that is narrated by the victim.

“Statesman,” by Piers Anthony.

Like all the bio of a space tyrant series, it is written in the form of a somewhat dramatized journal or memoir of Hope Hubris. However, at the end of the final memoir…

[spoiler]Hope charges off to confront the leader of some rugged region in south saturn (allegorically Tibet,) is stonewalled, and freezes to death, along with his tyrant and pet secretary. The memoir continues on to describe several of the events that followed on from his death… the uprising by the people against the Panchen leader, Hope’s daughter’s intercession to stop the post-uprising purge killing, and a brief mention of the funeral.

An epilog describes, amongst other things, the daughter, Hopie’s surprise on editing the memoir manuscripts for publication and discovering how they extended beyond his death, even relating something she had said word for word. She examines the manuscript more closely and makes an odd discovery… up to about the point where it would have been expected that he’d have time to make quick additions to the manuscript, they are in her father’s handwriting. Past that point… the handwriting is Hopie’s own.

Her father had many times spoken of, and described, having incredibly realistic visions of dead people. The conclusion is that somehow his spirit came back and posessed Hopie in her sleep, or some such, in order to finish the story in his own words.


shrugs. Not the worst ending I’ve ever read.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley.

Batman dies — but manages to come back after his own funeral. He prepared for it.

DKR is weird because the perspective shifts constantly and every major character and important supporting character speaks and thinks in the first person narrative.

Paul Quarrington’s King Leary, which I heartily recommend to all and sundry.

It’s about a singularly self-centered Golden Age hockey player in his Golden Years, literally haunted by his past, who travels to Toronto to film a TV commercial for Canada Dry.

Don’t be put off if you’re not a sports person – hockey does nothing for me, but this is one of my favourite books.[spoiler]Increasingly, throughout the narration, Leary’s dead friends appear to him in commonplace situations, cynically pointing out his hypocracies and short-comings. It’s implied that these apparitions are manifestations of senile dementia. They act as his conscience and inspire him to make a (somewhat insane) symbolic act of contrition, during the commision of which he seriously injures himself on broken glass. With his last words, he saves a relative stranger in the same way that he completely neglected to save his best friend, decades ago. After that:

But I got places to go.

I run down a little flight of six stairs and punch through a door marked “Emergency Exit.” This sets off a fire alarm, and the building starts making a noise like a slot machine paying off big. The sunlight blinds me. The earth is melting, the snow going so quickly that it almost leaves behind steam. Up ahead, their arms around each other, their feet fairly skipping, are Clays Bors Clinton and Manfred A. Ozikean. “Boys . . .” comes out of my throat, but it is a quiet sound and does not carry on the warm wind. Manny and Clay don’t slow for me. I try to dig in, but that only makes my ancient pins buckle. The snow feels good on my face. I am very tired.

When I wake, night has fallen. The sky holds a moon, a big silver moon. Everything is washed in its light. I hear my name, and slowly I climb to my feet. Over there the monks are out on the ice. Brother Simon the Ugly flies through the air, Andrew the Fireplug steams around the boards. Brother Theodore stands in the center of the ice, his eyes closed, preparing to fire the puck. And Brother Isaiah the Blind is waving to me.

I join them in the circle.[/spoiler]
Incidentally, this book is a bit remarkable because it obliquely referred to the Maple Leaf Gardens sex scandal, before it was a scandal. Oh, and it features metaphysical invaders from the Dogstar Sirius, which is always a plus in a hockey novel.

I haven’t read it yet but I’m told that *The Lovely Bones * by Alice Sebold is narrated by a girl who’s been murdered.

Murther & Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies starts out with the narrator getting shot and killed.

I guess that’s not the same thing though, since it’s sort of his ghost telling the story after that.

Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD is a textbook example.

The first thing that popped into my head (and I’m surprised it hasn’t been mentioned already) is All Quiet on the Western Front. Am I the only one who had to read this in tenth grade?

American Beauty opens up with the main character telling us he’s died, then takes us through everything that led up to it.

Stephen King’s short story “Survivor Type” is the journal of a guy who is marooned on a desert island. It’s really gross.

Claudius the God, which is mostly Claudius’s autobiography, shifts at the end to the accounts of several historians to dexribe the death of Claudius and its aftereffects, including a (rather unkind) satire of Claudius’ ascension to Olympus.

The BBC miniseries (called “I, Claudius” after the previous book) combines an account by Claudius’s servants and a deathbed vision to deliver this information.

I don’t remember the name of the story, but the setting is a carnival with rides that have been set up to kill some of the riders (to thin out the population? I can’t remember). The narrator is very lucky, and keeps escaping death ride after ride. He starts to think that he won’t die, but at the end of the story his luck runs out.

I was actually going to mention this one , it is one of my favorite King works !

A classic that I doubt needs a spoiler box, but here’s one anyway:

John Gardner’s Grendel.

It also contains one of my favorite closing lines:

“Poor Grendel’s had an accident,” I whisper. “So may you all.”

I’ve read that too, many years ago. I think it may be one of Lord Dunsany’s “Jorkens” stories.

Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, begins with the death of the narrator in the first chapter… so he can go on and narrate his own journey through Hell.