Plot Conundrum

I love mysteries, both writing and reading them.  I have a host of favorite authors including Elizabeth Peters, Dana Stabenow, Cornelia Read, Carol O’Connell, Sandi Ault, Karen Slaughter, Meg Gardner, etc.  But lately something’s been bothering me and I’m not sure how to handle it from both perspectives of reader and writer.  It’s that climatic moment near the end of the book where there’s a big dramatic event, usually endangering the life of the protagonist, and resulting in discovering and/or catching the antagonist.  This event is then followed by a slower paced conclusion that ties everything together.  Here’s my problem.  I’m getting bored with that climatic event.  Especially in series.  How scared should I get for the protagonist when I know a new book is coming out in a few months?  It’s obvious the character is going to survive, which kills the suspense for me.

Some authors deal with this in unique ways.  Elizabeth George was brave enough to kill off one of her main characters.  Others have the protagonist not survive to live happily ever after, and that character will lose someone or suffer something they then have to deal with in the next book.  Meg Gardner for instance has a main character in a wheel chair, which automatically makes me tense because he’s more vulnerable than your typical hero.  But the ending scene is still beginning to feel like a plot device.  I find I am reading these books because of the strongly written characters, who have become people I care about and want to spend time with rather than because of the plot.

It still begs the question.  How do you keep that climatic scene from eliciting a ho-hum response from the reader?  How do you avoid writing a formula and yet still stay in a genre you love?  I’m not sure that avoiding the whole ending scene would work, either, because then the plot would seem to fade away and I think as a reader I would feel let down even though I’m finding that ending scene to be the least interesting part of a book.  Maybe the solution is to not tie yourself as a writer into a series.  That would then free you up to do whatever you wanted with your characters and the reader won’t assume what the ending is going to be. 

So any thoughts on how to solve this or comments on what you do in your writing to avoid having what should be the most tense, fast paced scene of a book become an expected, boring formula?