Is thriller novel w/o big final scene possible?

I enjoy reading thrillers, but one thing that kinda disappoints me is the standard formula. There is an interesting, lengthy buildup and character development for 300 pages, and then a big confrontation scene in the final 20-30 pages where the protagonist meets the threat. I just find it so predictable, that often I find myself almost skimming the final 50 pages or so just to find out the resolution, because I find the confrontation scenes so much less interesting than what preceded.

But I’m not sure what a “thriller” would be like if it lacked this sort of climax. Some of the most rewarding I’ve read have been Mick Herron’s’s Slough House series, because he doesn’t hesitate to kill off main characters. But even those have end of book climaxes. Not as practical in cases w/ a single protagonist. You KNOW they aren’t gonna die.

Are you aware of any other examples of thrillers that do not follow this standard formula? Or any theories of how they could be written?

Or am I the only person who has any problems w/ the standard formula?

Gone Girl has the big climax/reveal midway through the story, rather than at the end. And it’s an amazing book.

Neil Gaiman wrote a fascinating essay, called “The Pornography of Genre, or the Genre of Pornography,” in which he attempted to define what makes something genre fiction.

If he’s right (and I’m not sure he completely is, but it’s an interesting and worthwhile point of view), then that big final climactic confrontation scene might arguably be one of those set pieces without which the thriller reader would feel cheated, so it is a requirement.

Gone Girl is a good example of what I’m asking (tho I did not share I the general acclaim for the book.) Something where there is an unreliable narrator or something, such that the second part of the book is more of an accurate recounting of what actually happened.

So I wonder if that would not qualify as a “thriller” under a Gaiman-like analysis… Me, I would definitely NOT feel cheated by the lack of such a climax. Anyone else feel the same?

Some of the worst (IMO) I can recall were Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield books. I really like Perry’s other work, but the Whitefield ones were so formulaic. The first 4/5 I found very interesting. Then you knew in the final 30 pages or so the killer would find Jane and the victim, and the only question was how the killer would end up dead.

Not sure Perry’s Butcher Boy novels involved quite as much of a climactic end, tho it has been a while. Parker, Travis McGee, Reacher - some of my favorite protagonists. I guess they tend to the final climax, but I just really enjoy the process of how they get there.

Block’s Scudder novels might be an example. I guess there was a climax, but for me, Scudder’s continuing arch was far more interesting than how any particular mystery got resolved.

My problem is that I love a genre of fiction: the thriller/murder mystery. But I don’t like lazy writing, which includes clichés.


For instance, I loved Sue Grafton’s A-Y* books. Especially the audiobooks. But often, especially early in the series, she’d show you some spooky environment in detail. Once it was interviewing a suspect at a… water processing plant? Something with pipes and ledges and danger and a lot of darkness.

I remember sighing and thinking “Well, we’re coming back here in the last chapter before the epilog, aren’t we?”

eta: And yes, we did…

*She sadly, and inconveniently, died before Z is for Zamboni, or Aa is for Aardvark…

Yeah - it is almost hard to say I like thrillers b/c IMO there are so many more BAD thrillers than good ones.

The Phantom of the Opera has the climax about three fourths of the way though the book. Honestly I think it ruins the book.

The truly great film ‘Usual Suspects’ has a quiet but wonderful ending.

I never thought of that as a “thriller.”

Well it depends on your definition of thriller!

Wikipedia says thriller is ’ a broad film genre that evokes excitement and suspense’.

‘Usual Suspects’ certainly has loads of excitement, suspense plus a killer twist!

Wikipedia calls it a “neo-noir mystery thriller” so, fair enough!

Yeah - I probably have problems w/ the term Thriller. If not a Thriller, what is Usual Suspects? Mystery? Detective/Crime?

Whatever the hell it is, it has A LOT of what I like in my favorite books I’m calling Thrillers. Maybe similar in movies would be Snatch, or Lock, Stock. Likely some overlap in Mysteries, but I don’t care for most of the Sherlock, Christie ilk.

You know, even in some Heist or Spy movies - Like Italian Job or Ocean’s 11, the Heist will take up a good part of the 2d half of the film, and the final part is more about whether they get away with it, turn on each other, etc. Or action films like Bourne, the action is more consistent all the way through, instead of just the bang bang in the final 10th of the work.

So - no one else likes Thrillers, but shares my dislike for the formulaic climax?

Ummm, hello… I think quite a few of us are saying exactly that: Love thrillers, hate clichés.

Which of course includes formulaic anything, including the cliché climax.

Wait…didn’t you quote me saying that already?

Great! Could you suggest some examples?

Sorry, I’ve been out on my bike (somewhere east of Coon Rock… not looking at a map), and I’m trying not to think about anything.
Hope someone else has examples!