The Last Line

by J.D. Rhoades

As you no doubt are aware, legendary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke died
on March 18 at the age of 90. This post won’t be another Clarke eulogy; there’s
no way, after all, that I could do
better than Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s tribute here. But in reminiscing about the things I loved in  Clarke’s
work, I  started  thinking about one of the things he did better than almost
anyone else: Arthur C. Clarke could write a killer last line. 

  • The Ramans do everything in threes. 
  • Though he was master of the world, he was unsure what to do
    next.
    But he would think of something.
  • Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out. 

Mickey Spillane was once quoted as saying that “The first
line sells that book. The last line sells your next one.” And the Mick had some
doozies: 

“How c-could you?’ she gasped. I only had a moment before
talking to a corpse, but I got it in.
“It was easy," I said.
 

And who could forget: Juno was a man! 

We’ve talked  here about great first lines in crime fiction, including the one
that opens James Crumley’s THE LAST GOOD KISS. But the brutal kiss-off in the last few lines of that
one are pretty stunning, too: 

“You’re dead,” I said. “Go home before you start to stink.”
I guess he did. The last I saw of him, he was stumbling out
of Rosie’s place, stumbling over Fireball’s grave.
 

And there’s’ a certain perfectly noir hopelessness in the  last lines of THE MALTESE FALCON: 

“Iva is here.”
Spade, looking down at his desk, nodded almost
imperceptibly. “Yes,” he said, and shivered. “Well, send her in.”

And outside of the genre, there are these classics:

  • He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
  • And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
  • "Well, I’m back," he said.

 

So what are YOUR favorite last lines? (Oh, and if they’re from something recent, rather than  classics like the ones above, and the last line telegraphs the ending, have a heart and put the word SPOILER FOR____  in the first part of your answer.)

And as an extra special bonus, a contest. But this one’s a little different because it may take a while to resolve. This next last line is from a book being released in the next three months. When you figure out what it is, e-mail me at jdrhoades@nc.rr.com, and you’ll get one of the first promo copies of BREAKING COVER.

The line is:

We’d already waited long enough.

13 thoughts on “The Last Line

  1. Patti Abbott

    “I’d say no dawns ever did break right over her and me again.”The Death of Sweet Mister” Daniel Woodrell.

    Reply
  2. DebbyJ

    I’m cheating. My favorite last line is actually 3 lines.”He walked homeward, slowly, hands in pockets. She had broken his heart; he had broken her window. It was a break-even day.”

    KILLING CRITICS by Carol O’Connell

    Reply
  3. Mark Terry

    The first one to come to mind was from John Sandford’s “Dark of the Moon.” The last line is:

    “Bite me.”

    I was sort of curious to see how I handled this in my own books. Actually, my favorite is from my novella, Catfish Guru.

    “I wondered what St. Peter the Accountant, the Keeper of Regrets, would have for me on my Judgement Day. I looked at the bottle of scotch in its pretty gift box and suspected you didn’t have to die to face the Keeper of Regrets. You just had to live long enough.”

    Reply
  4. Pari Noskin Taichert

    J.D.,Last lines are tremendously important to me; they can be so satisfying — the cappers that do, indeed, make us want more from that author.

    This isn’t an easy exercise though; I’m tempted to go through my favorite books and see, but have to get ready to leave town again tomorrow.

    Of course, I don’t remember a single last line off the top o’ my head.

    Reply
  5. Dana King

    POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT:Not crime or noir, but in its context, the best last line I have ever read is from John Irving’s A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR:

    “Don’t cry, Ruth. It’s just Eddie and me.”

    Reply
  6. Rae

    I’m not going to quote it here because it’s just too much of a spoiler, but my all time favorite last line is from Ariana Franklin’s “City of Shadows”. It wraps up the whole plot, ties together the loose ends, and surprises the heck out of you, all in about 12 workds.

    Fabulous.

    Reply
  7. JT Ellison

    Dusty, I bow to your creativity. You always come up with such fun posts. Sorry I’m late.

    I’m feeling a bit romantic today, so here’s my entry… and it might be a spoiler…from Tasha Alexander – A POISONED SEASON.

    “I can say without hesitation that all the time I’d waited had served only to heighten the moment; never before had there been such a kiss.”

    I love that.

    John Sandford, on the other hand, has luscious, gritty one liners, and Lee Child always has a good wrap up line as well.

    Reply
  8. JDRhoades

    I love the last line in ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, JT…especially the way it relates to the first one. That was very cool.

    The rest of y’all are just going to have to buy it to know what I’m talking about.

    Reply
  9. Fran

    I could but won’t give you one of my favorite last lines, not because it’s a spoiler but because out of the context of the book it just seems silly, whereas once you’ve read Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s LAST RITUALS, well, the last line will make you hoot. I learned a lot about Iceland, and I was only moderately creeped out by some of the rituals involved, but oh, that last line!

    Reply
  10. Julia Spencer-Fleming

    We climbed up, he first and I behind him,far enough to see, through a round opening,a few of those fair things the heavens bear.

    Then we came forth, to see again the stars.

    Dante’s Inferno. Translated by Robert Hollander (one of my favorite free verse translations)

    Reply
  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JD – wow, I see all these people who posted way before me, apologising for coming late to this one. Sorry, been undergoing the saga that is copyedits, but trying to do two lots simultaneously and I think I may have partially lost my mind …

    Anyway, last lines. I agree that they’re as important as opening lines, but I usually have an epilogue, so do you count the last line of the final chapter, or the last line of the epilogue? Where does it end?

    The closing line for SECOND SHOT arrived a long way before I’d finished writing the book. It arrived while we were staying with friends in Chicago. In the shower, if I remember right. I had to leap out and write it down before I forgot, which is not an image you want to conjure with. But when I reached the final page of actually writing the book, that last bit fitted just right:

    ‘So, still I ask myself the question: Did I kill him because I had no choice? Or because I made one?’

    The last line of THIRD STRIKE is trickier, because the last line of the epilogue does contain a huge spoiler, but the last line of the final chapter goes:

    ‘And with that, my cold, detached, and rational father, put his face in his hands and wept like a child.’

    Reply

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