|Is the mystery presented as a puzzle from the outset?|
Does the author present the story literally as a puzzle for the crime solver (and by extension, the reader) to decipher, or does the author evoke a puzzle throughout the narrative--asking the investigator (and the reader) to comb through motives and motivations in a systematic way? Does the author have the investigator leap from clue to clue, as one might step logically from stone to stone to cross a stream? In such cases, the reader can try to look two jumps ahead in the investigation and anticipate twists and turns. (Of course, when done well, the reader won't figure out the precise rocks in the path!)
|Or does the investigation reveal the puzzle?|
Certainly, any combination of these approaches can work when crafting a mystery. Sometimes, however, the reader is left unsatisfied by the great reveal, or worse, insulted by the obviousness of the solution.
The problem, I think, is when the author has not decided where the element of mystery--the heart of the puzzle--lies. Simply identifying the criminal or murderer is not enough. Is the puzzle in the crime itself? For example, consider the locked room mysteries, such as Poe's Murders in Rue Morgue or Christie's And Then There Were None. Here, the goal is to understand how the killings occurred, as well as to discover the murderer. Or, is the puzzle found in exploring different characters' motives for murder? (Kellerman's psychologist Alex Delaware, maybe?) Perhaps the puzzle lays in the investigation itself, such as in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, or in Cornwell's investigations featuring Kay Scarpetta.
Pantser or plotter--it doesn't matter to me. I do believe though, when writing a mystery, that it's necessary to decide on the nature of the puzzle....the story will follow! But what do you think?