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The Best Cliffhanger Endings Of The Past 15 Years

Here they are -- the books that left us breathless in the last 50 pages. Some are traditional thrillers, some whodunits and some roller-coaster novels.
  • Winter's Bone
    By Daniel Woodrell<br>224 pages; Back Bay Books<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> In this literary page-turner, Ree Dolly'
    .
    By Daniel Woodrell
    224 pages; Back Bay Books

    The Premise: In this literary page-turner, Ree Dolly's meth-cooking dad has skipped bail. If he doesn't show up for his next court date, then 16-year-old Ree, her two younger brothers and her mentally ill mother will lose their house. The search to find him involves poking into secrets that dangerous, neighboring families in the Ozarks would rather keep hidden.  

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: Woodrell simultaneously resolves this heart-pounding -- and heart-breaking -- story and leaves you wondering what will happen next. But the real hook? Ree's acts of courage that leave you astounded by what a young girl will risk to save her family.
  • Tell No One
    By Harlan Coben<br>320 pages; Dell<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong>&nbsp;The thriller you might have missed. Good-guy doc
    .
    By Harlan Coben
    320 pages; Dell

    The Premise: The thriller you might have missed. Good-guy doctor David Beck has been mourning his wife's murder for the past eight years. But what if she's still alive? The suspense encourages speed-reading, but the characters -- a drug dealer with a soft spot, a wisecracking lawyer, a kickass lesbian supermodel, a billionaire with a taste for revenge -- make you want to linger.  

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: Nonstop twists leave you too dizzy to guess the denouement. But damn if Coben didn't drop a clue at the very beginning -- and you missed it.
  • The Lake
    By Banana Yoshimoto<br>192 pages<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong>&nbsp;A young artist named Chihiro is haunted by her mot
    .
    By Banana Yoshimoto
    192 pages

    The Premise: A young artist named Chihiro is haunted by her mother's death. Ever so slowly, she falls in love with a mysterious scientist named Nakajima, who has an even deeper event to hide. Yoshimoto's spare, psychologically instense style has made her one of Japan's most celebrated authors.  

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: Nakajima's buried secret will leave you in tears, yet the final pages are sweetly -- and believably -- uplifting. A word to the wise -- don't read the flap copy unless you want a spoiler.
  • Life of Pi
    By Yann Martel<br>326 pages; Mariner Books<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong>&nbsp;An Indian man named "Pi" recalls the 227
    .
    By Yann Martel
    326 pages; Mariner Books

    The Premise: An Indian man named "Pi" recalls the 227 days he spent adrift on the Pacific Ocean as a boy, following a shipwreck that killed his parents. The only other survivors in the lifeboat were a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a tiger named Richard Parker -- maybe.  

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: The surprise comes with a philosophical afterburn, requiring us to think about how we endure tragedy, who we become in its wake and what we choose to believe.
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
    By David Wroblewsk<br>i576 pages<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> In this epic drama, Edgar Sawtelle is a mute dog breede
    .
    By David Wroblewsk
    i576 pages

    The Premise: In this epic drama, Edgar Sawtelle is a mute dog breeder living on a Wisconsin farm. One night he finds his father dying in the barn; later, his father's ghost leads him to a clue about what happened. Edgar's quest to avenge the murder has increasingly deadly consequences.

     Why the Ending Is a Stunner: The unforgettable conclusion of what Oprah calls one of  "the great American novels” has echoes of Hamlet’s burn-the-house-down conclusion, but still manages a wholly original take.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    By J.K. Rowling<br>652 pages; Scholastic Paperbacks<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> For those who've forgotten, the sixt
    .
    By J.K. Rowling
    652 pages; Scholastic Paperbacks

    The Premise: For those who've forgotten, the sixth and penultimate book of J.K. Rowling's record-shattering series finds the evil Death Eaters menacing the Muggles and threatening to destroy the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Can Harry, Hermione and Ron outwit them?  

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: No one was prepared to believe that the world's most beloved headmaster would really die -- nor could we guess who would kill him.Two years later, thousands of us stood in line for hours at our local bookstores waiting to grab the final installment the minute it went on sale.
  • No Country for Old Men
    By Cormac McCarthy<br>309 pages; Vintage<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong>&nbsp;Llewelyn Moss stumbles onto a drug deal go
    .
    By Cormac McCarthy
    309 pages; Vintage

    The Premise: Llewelyn Moss stumbles onto a drug deal gone wrong near the Mexican border, steals the money and drugs and runs. A chase involving rival hitmen and a guilt-ridden sheriff ensues. As in his other novels, McCarthy marries a mesmerizing prose style to a profound exploration of good and evil.

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: There's room for interpretation. McCarthy's genius lies in taking you for a wild ride, and then making you think and rethink questions about violence and conscience, long after you’ve finished the book.
  • Atonement
    By Ian McEwan<br>351 pages; Anchor Books<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> In 1935, while at home in her family's mansion
    .
    By Ian McEwan
    351 pages; Anchor Books

    The Premise: In 1935, while at home in her family's mansion in the English countryside, 13-year-old Briony misinterprets something she sees and makes a terrible accusation -- one that she will forever regret. The novel takes us through WWII and all the way into the 1990s, as Briony tries to make amends to the lovers she tore apart.

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: McEwan breaks your heart not once, but twice -- and leaves you wiser for it.
  • The Girl on the Train
    By Paula Hawkins<br>336 pages; Riverhead Books<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> Riding the train into London every mornin
    .
    By Paula Hawkins
    336 pages; Riverhead Books

    The Premise: Riding the train into London every morning, alcoholic Rachel—whose husband left her for another woman—gets a daily glimpse of a couple who appear to have the perfect life. But one morning, Rachel spots the woman kissing another man; and, not long after that, the woman disappears. Rachel goes to the police, but isn't taken seriously. Then she begins to doubt herself...

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: If you still don't know what happens, we won't wreck it -- but boy, are you in for a shock. Between this and Gone Girl, we’ve all begun to rely on unreliable narrators for our fictional thrills.
  • The Oxford Murders
    By Guillermo Martinez<br>208 pages; Penguin Books<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> In this brainy thriller by an Argentin
    .
    By Guillermo Martinez
    208 pages; Penguin Books

    The Premise: In this brainy thriller by an Argentine math PhD, the narrator arrives at Oxford after graduating from the University of Buenos Aires. Soon, he and a well-known logician get caught up trying to solve a series of killings, following what appear to be mathematical clues. (Although the book was big in Argentina, Spain and the UK, American readers might've missed it.)

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: Not only are the killer and the motive a surprise, but there's also an entirely unwitting accomplice.
  • The Paying Guests
    By Sarah Waters<br>576 pages; Riverhead Books<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong>&nbsp;In post&ndash;World War I London, Fra
    .
    By Sarah Waters
    576 pages; Riverhead Books

    The Premise: In post–World War I London, Frances Wray and her mother are forced to rent out rooms in their home to make ends meet. Their tenants' arrival marks the end -- to say the least -- of the sedate life they once enjoyed.

    Why The Ending Is a Stunner: This tale of forbidden sex that leads to murder closes on just the right satisfyingly sensual note.
  • A Storm of Swords
    By George R.R. Martin<br>1008 pages; Bantam<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> Shocker follows shocker in this third instal
    .
    By George R.R. Martin
    1008 pages; Bantam

    The Premise: Shocker follows shocker in this third installment of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. (The HBO hit Game of Thrones, based on the books, is only the tip of the sword, so to speak.) All manner of treachery rocks the war-torn Seven Kingdoms -- but perhaps no scene is as jaw-dropping as the third book's infamous Red Wedding.  

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: Martin leaves you craving the next installment...and the next, and the next. In fact, fans are frantic for him to finish the series.
  • In the Woods
    By Tana French<br>464 pages; Penguin Books<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong>&nbsp;In Dublin, in 1984, three children disap
    .
    By Tana French
    464 pages; Penguin Books

    The Premise: In Dublin, in 1984, three children disappear in the woods. Only one of them is found, and the blood-spattered boy can't remember what happened. But 20 years later, that boy -- who now calls himself by his middle name, Rob -- is a detective. When a murder takes place in those same woods, he and his partner, Cassie, are assigned to solve it...and Rob tries to get to the bottom of both mysteries.  

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: The murderer in the present-day case is surprising, but there's more. French leaves us as haunted as Rob, who discovers that some truths, some memories and some kinds of grief are too deep to reach. You'll also yearn for a romantic redo between Rob and Cassie (sorry, we're not telling...).
  • Eleanor & Park
    By Rainbow Rowell<br>336 pages; St. Martin's Griffin<br><strong><br>The Premise:</strong> Eleanor, the new girl at the high s
    .
    By Rainbow Rowell
    336 pages; St. Martin's Griffin

    The Premise:
    Eleanor, the new girl at the high school, contends with abuse and poverty, while Park, who is half Korean, struggles to gain his dad's approval. This unlikely couple falls in love and is sadly torn apart. But then...

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: A postcard arrives, with three words written on it.
  • One Day
    By David Nicholls<br>437 pages; Vintage<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> This star-crossed love story captures the same d
    .
    By David Nicholls
    437 pages; Vintage

    The Premise: This star-crossed love story captures the same day, July 15, through a series of years spanning  1988 to 2007. We see Emma and Dexter move out of their student days and on to false starts of adulthood, a hot-and-then-not career (Dexter), a crummy job followed by success (Emma) and, of course, romances with the wrong people. You think you know where this is headed, but you don't...

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: There's a sucker punch that seems like it must surely mark the finish. But in this novel, time, like memory, has a way of circling back.   
  • Rose Gold
    By Walter Mosley<br>320 pages; Vintage<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> In Mosley's most recent <i>Easy Rawlins</i> myste
    .
    By Walter Mosley
    320 pages; Vintage

    The Premise: In Mosley's most recent Easy Rawlins mystery (the first was Devil in a Blue Dress), the P.I. is hired to find the kidnapped daughter of a wealthy weapons manufacturer. The story unfolds in L.A. during the era of radical black nationalism and the Patty Hearst kidnapping -- and while the prime suspect is a black man, Easy is convinced he's innocent and fears that the police will kill him if they find him first.  

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: This unputdownable story is filled with twists and turns, but the real shock to the system lies in Mosley's social commentary about an era that makes you think even harder about today's headlines.
  • Never Let Me Go
    By Kazuo Ishiguro<br>288 pages; Vintage<br><br><strong>The Premise:</strong> Kathy has loved Tommy since boarding school, but
    .
    By Kazuo Ishiguro
    288 pages; Vintage

    The Premise: Kathy has loved Tommy since boarding school, but her best friend, Ruth, won him. There's nothing unusual in that setup—but it turns out that all three are clones, created for the sole purpose of having their organs harvested. Kathy becomes a "carer" for other clones going under the knife, which buys her time. Ruth dies on the table. Could Tommy and Kathy's rekindled love win him a deferral?

    Why the Ending Is a Stunner: Their former headmistress makes a shattering admission. One that you either suspected (but couldn't believe would actually happen) or that you never saw coming -- which, in turn, reveals a little about how you see the world.

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