I just finished a classic mystery published by The Crime Club in 1931. The title: The Midnight Mail, by Henry Holt. I like to dip my toes into classic waters a few times a year, and I'm usually happy with the choice I've made. I've always liked Holt and have read quite a number of his books. So I expect them to be good, and this one was.
Holt does something in this book that I find remarkable every time I see it done. What's more, I see this particular thing done so rarely, it becomes all the more remarkable for that reason.
So what is this thing, you ask? Let me explain.
Have you ever been reading a book that hurtles along, keeping you interested throughout, teasing you with new revelations, new twists, and new mysteries throughout? The author keeps adding layers, piling one thing on top of another, and then you suddenly realize, with dawning horror, that there are only about 5 pages left in the book. And you think "How on earth is the author going to tie ALL OF THIS together in the last 5 pages?" And you begin to fear that you will be left hanging on at least a couple of plot points, and some of the resolutions will be silly or pointless, and you prepare yourself for a disappointment.
But then ... something miraculous happens. The author does it. S/he ties everything up - answers every question - reveals all those red herrings you fell for - in those last five pages. What seemed so complicated and multilayered turns out to have been quite simple and logical, if only you'd thought it through. But no - the author put a ring in your nose and led you around like a bull, took you where s/he wanted you to go, and then left you feeling grateful for the captivity you experienced.
Isn't this phenomenon marvelous? I am gushing about it today because I realize that in the last few books I've edited, plots and subplots have gotten resolved over several chapters at the end of the book - perhaps over 20 or 25 pages, not those tight, elegant 5 pages. I think this is absolutely fine - I'm not sure readers notice or worry about these things too much, though I do think that an ending that's too drawn out would be tiresome - but maybe those five perfect final pages are a nice goal to aim for. Certainly Margaret Millar, one of my all-time favorites, accomplished it time and time again.