I finished Ken Bruen's The Dramatist last week and I still have it on the brain.
First of all, if there is a poster boy for the whole character over the puzzle camp, I think it is Bruen. I read the Jack Taylor series to read how Bruen is solving the mystery of his main character rather than how that character is solving the crimes he happens upon.
Second, I love Bruen's selective use of language. If you're looking for a maximilist style, you better look somewhere else. The lean prose lends itself to the bleak world Bruen has created in the Taylor novels. Just fucking great writing.
Now the final aspect of the novel. Not to give anything away, but an incident that happens at the end of the novel is so heartbreaking, so unbearable, that you would think Bruen has little love for his most famous character. Of course that isn't true; Bruen is simply creating a huge emotional conflict.
Writers need to play god within their created universes. If everything was hunky-dory, why read it? The bigger the conflict, the more a reader will invest in it. And it is the roughest conflicts that are the most memorable, whether they are action based (the first two Alien movies) or emotionally centered (Revolutionary Road). People tend to want a happy ending to their stories; they need a sense of closure, but how many of those stories stay with the reader? Take Mystic River. No happy ending there, but it hits you with a huge emotional punch. Now, think about The Bourne Identity (the book). What do you remember of the ending? Or The Da Vinci Code. Sure, I devoured that book, but I honestly couldn't tell you what happened beyond the big controversial things. For the longest time, I didn't think I had it in me to make my characters suffer, but I quickly realized that without suffering they weren't completely developed. They may well have been gleeful stick figures. But give them a reason to care, a reason to cry, a reason to be angry and just watch them come into their own. Playing god doesn't mean you completely manipulate the characters; it means you give them a conflict and allow them to deal with it. To control the characters, you are forcing them; but if you just create the obstacles, they will take control and leave a lasting impression on your readers.