Created By: random5 on January 2, 2012

Never the First Suspect

The first suspect to be apprehended/arrested in a crime movie/tv series is almost never the real culprit.

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It has become a stock in crime movies and television series that The first suspect to be apprehended or arrested for a crime is almost never the real culprit. This is perhaps due to the fact that the story would be unappealingly short if the first suspect truly were guilty, but it is still a common element in crime series nonetheless. It might be averted in cases where the first suspect really is the culprit but is resourceful/smart enough to evade his pursuers for the duration of the story. Does a trope for this concept already exist?
Community Feedback Replies: 15
  • January 3, 2012
    I think it's a type of in-universe Red Herring.
  • January 3, 2012
    It can be averted in cases where it is the real suspect but the story is about the police having to put together enough evidence to formally charge them for it.
  • January 3, 2012
    Could have sworn we had this but cant find it. This is an intersection between Everyone Is A Suspect and Your Princess Is In Another Castle
  • January 3, 2012
    This is sometimes double subverted, particularly in Castle.
  • January 3, 2012
    ^ like this?
    • Played straight: Bob, the first suspect, turns out to not be the culprit...
    • Subverted: ...despite the audience's expectations, Bob turns out to be the culprit
    • Double subverted: ...until a new twist in the investigation gives him a solid alibi and it turns out Alice was behind it all.
  • January 4, 2012
    Used by the murderer in the Agatha Christie novel The Mysterious Affair At Styles. He deliberately makes himself the very obvious first suspect, then prepares fake evidence so the case against him will be overturned and he won't be suspected again (in English law at the time, one couldn't be tried twice for the same crime).
  • January 7, 2012
    • Played straight in of 99% of all Ace Attorney cases, where the culprit is never, ever, ever the defendant. Unless your name is Matt Engarde.
  • January 7, 2012
    An astute watcher/reader may be able to figure this out via Spoiled By The Format. If the arrest occurs early in the episode/film/book, there's too much left in the work so the criminal must be someone else.
  • January 7, 2012
  • January 8, 2012
    That's what I was thinking. That trope in the mystery/police genre.
  • January 9, 2012
    ^ and ^^ That alone makes it tropable IMO; we have plenty of tropes that have different names in different media or genres.
  • January 9, 2012
    Agatha Christie also used this in Towards Zero, in which the culprit first framed himself for a murder, then framed his ex-wife. It turns out she was his true target: he wanted to have her humiliated and executed by the justice system.
  • January 10, 2012

    • In Death series: This has popped up a few times. The story Chaos In Death even sets up a character named Eton Billingsly as a suspect on the grounds that he is a Jerkass to everybody. It probably won't surprise you to know that he gets killed off as the story goes on.
  • January 21, 2014
    too many examples to count.
  • January 21, 2014
    Unless they're the only suspect. In which case this is like saying that you always find what you're looking for in the last place you look.