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Writing a novel with a surprise ending is a tricky thing for an author: give the reader a bit too much information and when the rabbit is finally whipped out of the hat, everyone rolls their eyes and thinks, "Whatever. I saw that coming from Chapter 2"; conversely, give them too little information and the reader is left whining "What the...?"

A book that manages to walk that tightrope of disclosure and concealment to a successfully gasp-inducing finale is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Here are 10 that fit that criteria nicely.

  1. Enders Game By Orson Scott Card

    Book Cover: Enders Game By Orson Scott Card
    (sci-fi, children books, children books series, teens)

    "This tale of boy wonder Ender Wiggin and the training he receives at Battle School in order to save the world from alien annihilation would have been fantastic without any extra surprises. However, when Ender -- and the reader -- find out what all these "games" really are, the story moves from the riveting to the sublime. If you haven't read this yet, please, please do so and let me know what you think."

  2. Atonement By Ian Mcewan

    Book Cover: Atonement By Ian Mcewan
    (literature and fiction)

    "When I reached the end of Atonement, the full realization of what Briony had done to Cecilia and Robbie hit me like a punch in the gut. Call me naive, but I did not see that end coming. Like Ender's Game, the audiobook production of this is outstandingly good and has one great advantage over the book -- it prevents you from peeking at the last few pages to see what is ahead."

  3. The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

    Book Cover: The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
    (mystery and thrillers)

    "All hell broke loose when The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was originally published in 1926. Journalists and book critics (those snarky jerks) universally tongue-lashed Ms. Christie for pulling a fast one on mystery readers. Ms. Christie did nothing of the sort; she simply pushed the mystery genre to the outer edge of its potential and she hasn't been matched in brilliance by any mystery writer since. In fact, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is just one example of her cunning talent -- take a look at And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Murder at the Vicarage for more surprising murderous delights."

  4. Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson

    Book Cover: Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson
    (literature and fiction)

    "Behind the Scenes at the Museum relates the tragedies and comedies of the Lennox family through the eyes of one of the daughters, Ruby Lennox. The family secret that is revealed to Ruby near the conclusion of the book is devastating, yet, with Atkinson's deft handling, the book's overall humor and optimism triumphs. This is one hell of a book"

  5. The Talented Mr. Ripley By Patricia Highsmith

    Book Cover: The Talented Mr. Ripley By Patricia Highsmith
    (literature and fiction, mystery and thrillers)

    "When I first listened to the audio production of this book, I was so stressed out by the last quarter of the story that I had to keep stopping the tape to recover. Ms. Highsmith keeps the fate of the oh-so-talented Tom Ripley under wraps until practically the last sentence of the book, when the readers nerves are barely able to tolerate the outcome."

  6. The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook

    Book Cover: The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook
    (mystery and thrillers)

    "Thomas H. Cook has made a career of writing books that wait until the last possible page -- last possible paragraph even -- to dump a load of cold horror on the reader when they finally become aware of what really was going on under the surface in the tale. The Chatham School Affair is probably Mr. Cook's finest effort. If the denouement of this pleasantly terrifying story doesn't chill you to the bone, you are made of sterner stuff than I. One of the inherent problems with making a writing career using the same "gotcha!" on the last few pages as your brand of literature, however, is that anyone who reads more than one of your books will find themselves spending the entire story trying to figure out what you have up your sleeve this time instead of focusing on the writing itself. Still, the gasp you get from the first one -- particularly if your first experience of Mr. Cook is The Chatham School Affair -- will be worth it. If you've read that and want more, Red Leaves, The Cloud of Unknowing, and Breakheart Hill are quite good."

  7. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

    Book Cover: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
    (literature and fiction, mystery and thrillers)

    "This was the first book I ever stayed up all night to finish, so obsessed was I with determining who had stolen the priceless and sadly cursed gem, the Moonstone. The narrative is written in pieces by a series of people who were present the night that the Moonstone disappeared, and Mr. Colllins does a bang up job not only giving each character a distinctive voice and personality, but ratcheting up the suspense until, by the time you are two-thirds of the way through the book, you are in a state of desperation to know the unpredictable end."

  8. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy Emmuska

    Book Cover: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy Emmuska
    (classics, literature and fiction)

    "There are few books I've experienced whose endings have caused me to shout out loud with astonishment and glee; The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of them. This story really has got it all -- romance, suspense, adventure, and daring along with a conclusion to die for.

    Incidentally, the shouting-with-astonishment occured while I was working as a private cook in yet another one of my UC Davis student manifestations. I was listening to an audiobook of the story and let loose while dicing potatoes. The Lady of the House turned, startled, like I'd thrown a dart at her. But she never said a thing about it."

  9. The Killings At Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham

    Book Cover: The Killings At Badger
    (literature and fiction, mystery and thrillers)

    "Caroline Graham is like a modern version of Agatha Christie -- snarkier and sassier and with denouements that would make Ms. Christie proud. The Killings at Badger's Drift, the first of Ms. Graham's Inspector Barnaby series, has enough smut and surprise in its ending to make even a prostitute gasp. Whatever you do though, do NOT watch the Midsomer Murders television versions of Ms. Graham's works. They are embarassingly awful."

  10. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre

    Book Cover: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carre
    (mystery and thrillers)

    "If you only read one spy novel in the whole of your lifetime, let this be the one. It is quintessential Cold War spy fare, complete with a double-whammied blood chilling conclusion. My dad pestered me for years to read this book and I resisted like the ninny I am. When I finally began it, I was in love instantly. Mr le Carre has written many admirable books since (the Smiley series, for instance) but nothing can touch the antiheroic and disillusioned perfection of this masterpiece. And if the big surprise near the book's conclusion (for those who've read it, I'm not talking about the very end but when you-know-who turns out to be....) doesn't get you, I don't know what will."

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