So I don't know if y'all KNOW this or not, but I am cheap in the best of times, and BROKE at the moment so I do my reading on a budget. Fortunately, I live in a town where I actually can do most of my reading for FREE. There are boxes of books left on curbs with 'free' signs. Heck, even our LIBRARY gives away free books.
Since I started writing mystery, I've kept my eyes open for some of the names that are prolific and widely read, but on the list of freebies, I am beginning to suspect it is the tail end that has survived. Two recent reads have taught me some big lessons for what I like and don't like, and it's fairly funny, because they are opposites.
My neighbor said she loved Janet Evanovich, and I hadn't read any, so I picked up TWO (both are Stephanie Plum books, which I now know are Cozies, though I've only read Plum Lucky thus far). I LIKE Stephanie... mostly I like that she seems to have a collection of attractive male hoodlums helping her out. I have a little trouble with the racially stereotyped sidekick (finding it in poor taste to have the only black person in the book an ex-hooker) but I LIKED Lula's personality (overshot self confidence that somehow actually WORKS except when it doesn't). I maybe could even get along with the guy who thinks he's a leprechaun and talks to horses. The man candy is well done--hot, varied, and just a little quirky.
I just found it WAY too big of a stretch. Grandma finds a duffel bag of money, proceeds to start spending it, it was stolen in the first place (and the second) so both the original thief and the secondary thief are trying to get it back... but the parade of stupidity and poor decisions through this just strained my credibility too much.
I found myself alternately laughing at character stuff and rolling my eyes with 'I can't believe we are expected buy this as part of this story.'
Now this one I am only half through, and it DOES go a little slow at points, but the premise and set up are pretty good. Cop with a troubled daughter, so when the bad guy starts talking to her, her family doesn't believe 'the wizard' is real. There's been a student raped and murdered on a college campus. The Sheriff, up for reelection, keeps trying to paint it as a 'cult-killer' (so he will seem more impressive when it's solved), but the MC doesn't buy it (and as of where I am, neither do I)...
There is a cast of thousands, which normally I am fairly tolerant of, but of HONESTLY about 40 characters I've met, I only like 2, and NEITHER is the MC--or even really a regular (I like the psychiatrist and the campus head of security). I don't like Bill Corde (he's a dismissive ass IMHO and I just haven't found anything appealing). His wife is a shrew who keeps dismissing her daughter's problems as 'attention getting' when the girl is so obviously distressed... though I think what REALLY speaks of this personality problem is I don't even like HER! (she's 7 and he's made her unlikable). I mean I KNOW characters should have flaws, but to be nothing BUT flaws...
So I think overall, while what I WANT is BOTH—good characters AND a good plot, it's interesting to see the different things the two do for me. I think the characters were more fun to read, but the better plot is more deeply engaging... I keep thinking about it when I'm NOT reading.