The Poisoned Martini‘s first poll asked the question: which do you prefer…character-driven or plot-driven mysteries? The results were 70% vs. 30%. Yours truly prefers puzzle plots to solve in mysteries, but the majority of respondents want character-driven stories.
I previously discussed this topic here. A quick recap: my experience has been that recent mysteries—while often presenting believable characters—lack an equally intricate plot. “The mystery almost seems to take a back seat to the antics or angst of the characters involved,” as I stated previously. I miss the challenge of trying to solve a murder or two—à la Agatha Christie—in which the author plays fair. Too often I feel I’m guessing who the killer is—and being proved right—without really having the clues that would logically lead me to that conclusion. As a longtime reader (and writer) of mysteries, I also recognize certain tropes of the genre which points me to the killer.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like character-driven stories. Characters need to be believable to readers. Their motives are what drive the mystery story. After all, the killer (and suspects) must have a valid reason for offing the victim. Characters that readers care about can more than make up for stories where the mystery is not so complex.
The best mysteries excel at giving readers a balance of both elements. This is what I believe most authors strive for. Something that can admittedly be tough to pull off but worth achieving.