Created By: deevo0September 1, 2013 Last Edited By: DocLokiOctober 12, 2013
Nuked

Detective With Demons

Detective struggles with substance abuse and severe relationship problems

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Trope
A police or private detective, usually a middle-aged male, who is a recovering substance abuser (usually an alcoholic) whose abuse played a major role in either a divorce or serious relationship problems. The struggle with substance abuse must be an essential trait of the character rather than an inessential detail.

The detective functions well enough to solve crimes, but is either sober and frequently tempted by the substance, or periodically falls off the wagon and must overcome the addiction to be able to solve a crime. Whereas the Drunken Master is made stronger by alcohol, the Detective With Demons is made weaker. The Detective With Demons is usually struggling on all fronts: internally against addiction, and externally with his love interest, boss, and criminal adversaries.

If the detective is in a relationship, then it is unraveling, usually because of the combination of substance abuse and an obsession with work. The love interest of the detective frequently threatens to leave unless the substance abuse stops. If the love interest has already left, then the detective either tries unsuccessfully to win the partner back, or nobly suffers in silence, knowing that he is incapable of bringing happiness to another.

The detective's substance abuse is usually tolerated by Da Boss because the detective is The Ace. However, the detective's struggles and damaged reputation may result in Turn In Your Badge, You Have 48 Hours, and so on.

If the Detective With Demons is battling a criminal, then this criminal may use the substance abuse as a weapon against him. For example, the criminal may try to "help the demons" by tempting the detective to abuse the substance, or undermining the detective's confidence by pointing to his addiction and failed relationships.

This trope is extremely common in detective novels and TV crime series. In fact, it is almost impossible to find a well-adjusted, happy detective in a good relationship anywhere in the genre.


Examples

Literature
  • Harry Hole in the detective series by Jo Nesbo.
  • Dave Robicheaux in the detective series by James Lee Burke.

Live Action TV

Community Feedback Replies: 32
  • September 2, 2013
    Arivne
    Re-wrote the description to make it look a little better.

    Namespaced and italicized work names and grouped the examples by media.

    Drunken Detective?

    All of the OP examples are Zero Context Examples and need information about how they fit the trope, like this:

    Film
    • Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Eddie Valiant and his brother were famous private detectives involved in major cases until one day his brother was murdered by a Toon. Eddie became a drunk and went on a slow downward spiral, being forced to take degrading jobs like proving that someone was an adulterer.
  • September 2, 2013
    arbiter099
    looks like Drowning My Sorrows "but also a detective" to me
  • September 2, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ Drowning My Sorrows is a sad person drinking to relieve the sadness. Totally not this thing.
  • September 2, 2013
    DAN004
    Maybe Drunken Impotence can work on a general level.
    • Real Life: There's a reason you shouldn't drive while you're drunk.
  • September 2, 2013
    randomsurfer
    While Andy's alcholism colored his backstory it didn't really affect anything beyond the first couple of episodes, except when Andy Jr. got killed in the line of duty; then he went to a bar and told the bartender to line up a bunch of shots.
  • September 2, 2013
    SpocktorWho
    • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant took to the bottle after his brother's death, which led to the decline of his detective career.

    • Nick Charles in The Thin Man movies defies the trope, hard. He drinks alcohol as if it were water, and is still a master crimesolver.
  • September 2, 2013
    Arivne
    This can be added to the following indexes once it's launched.

    I suggest expanding this to private detectives as well. Not only will it give you more examples (like Who Framed Roger Rabbit) but this trope definitely applies to private detectives as depicted in the media.
  • September 3, 2013
    Snicka
    Not to be confused with Occult Detective, who might be a detective working with literal demons.
  • September 3, 2013
    Larkmarn
    This seems to just be The Alcoholic... but a detective.
  • September 3, 2013
    deevo0
    Thanks for the good feedback and the rewrite. DCI Lonely Drunk is not a great name. Perhaps Detective With Demons is better. I'll flesh out the examples soon.

    I suppose this could be a variation on The Alcoholic. But the relationship problems are also important, and they aren't mentioned in The Alcoholic description. Also, it's important that the detective be battling the addiction, and also that he is brilliant at his job. None of this is mentioned in The Alcoholic description. For example, the character in Leaving Las Vegas was an alcoholic, but he wasn't fighting it, and he wasn't the best at anything. If the Leaving Las Vegas character had been a retired detective, he wouldn't be the Detective With Demons because he is a loser who has given up.

    Wondering if the trope could be generalized so that the demons could be anything non-supernatural, not just drink. For example, the detective is wrestling with guilt because he didn't save so-and-so from death.
  • September 3, 2013
    Synchronicity
    Why not expand it to drugs and/or smoking and other kinds of vices to avoid Drowning My Sorrows The Same But More Specific?
  • September 3, 2013
    xanderiskander
    ^ That would work a lot better In my opinion too.
  • September 3, 2013
    deevo0
    Thanks for the suggestions. I think the struggle must be such that the detective is in danger of losing everything (job, marriage, children, etc.), which makes me think smoking wouldn't count. For that reason, a hidden vice wouldn't count unless the vice was so powerful as to threaten to overwhelm him.
  • September 3, 2013
    kjnoren
    I wouldn't use Detective With Demons due to the risk of confusion with actual demons.

    This is also a trope that has changed. The detectives and policemen in the classic 40s movies drank a lot, but that was (from what I can understand) mainly because that was expected from a "real man" of the time. The drinking detectives nowadays are usually given a reason for why they're drinking.

    For the former version, see Hardboiled Detective.
  • September 3, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Literature
    • Author Nicholas Meyer portrayed legendary detective Sherlock Holmes as a cocaine addict in his 1974 book The Seven Per Cent Solution. Holmes began using cocaine in college as a way to relieve boredom, injecting the stuff as a solution of 7% strength. This work was adapted into a film by Universal Studios in 1976.
  • September 3, 2013
    Chernoskill
    • In Basic Instinct, Michael Douglas' character is a police detective with a history of cocaine abuse and his relationship to his girlfriend it problematic, to say the least.
  • September 4, 2013
    aurora369
    Max Payne, the protagonist of the eponymous series of video games, is this trope meeting action hero. Has a rough-and-tumble history with painkillers and a designer drug, and with losing loved ones, too.
  • September 4, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the William Shatner Tekwar series of books (and the Action Pack films/TV series based on it) lead Jake Cartigan is a former cop who became addicted to Tek and sent to cryogenic prison.
  • September 6, 2013
    robbulldog
    Subtrope of Defective Detective (?)
  • September 10, 2013
    deevo0
    ^ I think Defective Detective is right. Detective With Demons is either a subtrope or the same trope. Why are tropes so hard to find on this site?
  • September 11, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    ^ They are only hard to find if you can't figure out what search words to use. I just now tried "detective" + "alcoholic", "detective" + "depressed", and "detective" + "relationship problems". In two of the three cases Defective Detective was the first result to be shown, and even in the last one it was the fourth. Doesn't seem too difficult to me...
  • September 11, 2013
    kjnoren
    Troubled Detective as an alternative trope name.
  • September 11, 2013
    XFllo
    ^^^ Q: "Why are tropes so hard to find on this site?" A: Because there are so many of them. Or because you haven't asked at Lost And Found forum? ;-) I'd say Defective Detective covers it.
  • September 12, 2013
    kjnoren
    Defective Detective is a supertrope, but it's quite general, and my impression is that this trope is relatively new and has become quite popular. Ie, I think the new trope should be judged by the amount and quality of examples.

    Literature/TV/Film:

    • Kurt Wallander is divorced, have a rocky relationship with his father and his daughter, and drinks far too much. It's left unstated if he has personal issues because he drinks or if he drinks because he has personal issues, but it's pretty clear the two reinforce each other.
  • October 9, 2013
    Lakija
    Bump, on account of sad detectives are cool and pathetic.
  • October 9, 2013
    Snicka
    If you keep this name, then you should point it out in the description (as kjnoren and I pointed out before) that this is not an Occult Detective who works with literal demons.
  • October 10, 2013
    kjnoren
    ^ Agree. I also think "demons" is a poor name from another perspective. To me it implies a very strong issue in the past, but not anything necessarily ongoing. A marriage falling apart due to being too much at work isn't a demon. A demon is more your wife dying because you failed at some part of your job in the backstory. At least that's my impression.
  • October 10, 2013
    DAN004
  • October 10, 2013
    AP
    • Batman obviously has a number of demons: he fights crime due to a childhood trauma, is known to be paranoid, and has less than steller social skills. Substance abuse was also a problem during the Venom arc.
  • October 10, 2013
    MetaFour
    Web animation:
    • Ultra Fast Pony turns into a Cop Show parody for the episode "Stay Tuned", and Cowboy Cop Pinkie Pie describes her troubled past multiple times. Either her backstory keeps changing, or she has every problem it's possible to have, and then some.
      Pinkie Pie: I'm a former drug addict and bad cop on the streets, trying hard to raise money to send my kid sister to school! [Later] I'm a cop on the edge, living on the limits of the law, with a gambling problem and brother working for the other side! [Later] I'm a loose cannon with friends in the dark and enemies in every department! [Later] I'm a former criminal trying to make up for what I did in the past by joining the force!
  • October 12, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    Live-Action TV

    • Security Chief Garibaldi on Babylon 5 had past history of alcoholism which had almost ruined his career in Earth Force. He briefly turns to the bottle after being framed in the first season episode "Survivors", and falls off the wagon again in the fifth season.
  • October 12, 2013
    SharleeD
    Detective With Personal Demons, maybe? Or possibly Detectives' Private Lives Suck.

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