A smart, complex villain who isn’t necessarily all bad. I hate cookie cutter, cardboard villains who are only motivated to kill, kill, kill without no reason other than to, well, kill. Hate the terrorists plots. Loathe the serial killers. I’ll read a Connie Mason book over a plot revolving around international espionage any day of the week. Yeah. I said it.
In Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer (Random House UK 1999, 456 pages), the villain was a Croatian refugee/assassin dead set on a mission to kill a Salvation Army officer. The author fleshed the villain out, gave him some background which made the story ten times more satisfying because the author did the unthinkable: made the villain a sympathetic character to me. Of course he needed to be stopped and Harry Hole was just the man to do it. The villains in Nesbo’s book are smart, determined, passionate and lethal. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The setting: I have to feel like I’m there from the comfort of my own bedroom. I’ve enjoyed the harsh Baltic weather in Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room. Have run the streets in Oslo with Harry Hole (The Redbreast, et al by Jo Nesbo) and enjoyed Paris with Fred Vargas in The Three Evangelists. Been to East Africa thanks to Suzanne Arruda’s Jade del Cameron’s series that starts with Mark of the Lion. If your mystery has a good setting, that’s half the battle right there. The more exotic the better.
Less interrogation, more investigation and other stuff. I know JD Robb’s Eve Dallas is revered by everyone but me. I think. One of the major reasons why I quit reading those books was that I was bored silly with Eve’s interrogations. Eyes would just glaze over. Never mind how Roarke always managed to either be a suspect in each and every frikkin case she had but he was helping her with his state of the art computer equipment that can break everybody else’s. Yawn.
I don’t mind interrogation(s) if it’s not all that long and it’s actually entertaining. Otherwise, why bore me to death with the same boring questions? Pepper it up it we must be subjected to the interrogation room. But in my ideal mystery, there would no interrogations that went on for more than a couple of paragraphs or if your talented like Jo Nesbo where I am hanging off your every word then you’re good.
Characterizations: your mystery must be character driven. I’ve read almost all of your standard tropes. The loner detective who can’t hold his liquor or drinks indiscriminately but still manages to be a top rated cop (Jo Nesbo, Ken Bruen). I can’t recall what Harry Bosch’s vices were. Did he even have any? Besides always giving his superiors the finger, can’t think of one, no.
There are other elements that make a good mystery like how easy or hard they are to solve. Does the author cheat by having the villain show up out of nowhere? Are confessions made by the villain to the detectives before being shot to death? How is the pacing? Does the book move fast like a bullet out of a gun or does it move slow like a snail? How graphic is the violence? Is it nightmare inducing? See, for me, I am immune to the violence in books thanks to you guessed it Chelsea Cain and Karin Slaughter. But anyway, if you agree with those elements that make an outstanding mystery then we’ll get along fine. Okay, let’s read some good books.