"There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much bother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.
— Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories, Rule 7
In nearly any Crime and Punishment Series, by the end of the episode, someone will always be heading to the coroner's office, no matter how things start out.
Generally, the vast majority of episodes will be about a killing straight through, from beginning to end. It'll either be a straight up murder or perhaps a burglary gone wrong, but by the time our heroes are on the scene, there's a dead body and someone out there to answer for that. But that's not all. In the other episodes, when the show will start out investigate a missing person or a heist or something, someone will inevitably end up dead halfway through, killed by one of the perpetrators of the original crime (or the victim, or the detective, or the witness's twin brother's sister-in-law, etc.). It's a law of nature.
If the main characters are specifically homicide detectives, this trope is justified as long as the series sticks to the first variant. In any other case, however... there may not be honor among thieves, but they don't bump each other off that often.
Note that this trope only requires a crime that is investigated as a murder shows up. In many cases it's Never Suicide as well, but this trope still applies if what looks like a murder turns out to be suicide or an accident.
Sometimes coupled with Murder Is the Best Solution, if the murders in a series are frequently committed as solutions to minuscule problems. Compare Mystery Magnet, where everywhere someone goes a crime is committed.
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Anime and Manga
This is discussed in an episode of Lucky Star, the characters out loud wondering why detectives on TV always keep finding murders to investigate. Series lampshaded by this scene includes...
There's also one amusing subversion where one of Conan's friends falls asleep in the trunk of a car, only for its owners to toss a bag in without noticing her and drive away. She knocks the bag over, and it contains something round and slimy that turns out to be a head. However, the head turns out to be paper mache - the two men who own the car are actors for a play involving a kidnapping and murder. Hilarity Ensues.
The fandom makes much of Conan's evident ability to attract violent death to his immediate surroundings. Fan NicknameShinigami-kun. Meanwhile the first episode of the actual show purposely drew attention to the psychopathic level of glee seventeen-year-old Shinichi took in working out the method and motive for the messy instant beheading that happened on the roller-coaster behind him. Being a kid again and having to avoid the showing off that has been his whole life seems to render him slowly more human. Although his desensitization remains extreme.
Happily subverted in Q.E.D. where there are other cases which are generally interesting enough not to need it.
The author happily continues this trend with C.M.B. , in which is more about investigation work in archeology.
Below Board tends to zigzag this trope, as while the main characters are technically investigating burglaries, there's always someone who ends up dead by the end of each episode.
Regardless of what crime Jen and Gabe start investigating in The Maze Agency, it almost always ends up involving a murder.
Sin City stories always involve murders... usually a lot of `em.
Turnabout Storm has Phoenix Wright, a big poster boy of this trope, getting pulled into Equestria. It doesn't take him long to find out that it's because he's needed to defend someone charged for murder. Not even being in a Sugar Bowl can keep him away from this trope. Ultimately subverted though, as the victim suffered a case of Karmic Death.
Turnabout Substitution provides an interesting example. You know full well before you start playing that someone will end up dead, since this is an Ace Attorney fangame. During the first day of the trial, you sucessfully prove that Judge Chambers did not kill Robert Enlemeyer and that Enlemeyer is still alive. It looks like nobody's dead after all... until Judge Chambers is killed by his own car near his brother's grave. The second day of the trial has you defending a (supposed) serial killer of Chambers's death.
Because Detective Conan suffers from this rather—though there's a suicide or so, and plenty of non-murder episodes with the Shounen Tantei, like in Season One they deal with gold smuggling, a hostage situation, an assassination plot, and a case of mistaken identity—fanfic tends to decide he has a supernatural power to attract murder or be attracted to it, though the supposed methods vary. More common when the writer is engaged in an extensive crossover with Magic Kaitou, which has actual supernatural elements much better attested, even if Kid never uses such things himself.
As noted above, Conan has earned the Fan Nickname 'Shinigami-kun' for all that death.
Fanfic is also prone to having the recurring police or similar characters lampshade the Fridge Horror that is Conan's existence—whatever this effect is, it was operating somewhat already on Shinichi before he shrank, i.e. the show started, but had not kicked in when he was really the age he seems, so it's not quite as awful as it looks...
Untraceable is a cybercrime movie that managed to end up being about murders. (Of course, something like identity theft would make a pretty boring thriller.) Whether or not The Net proves the latter point is up to debate.
Look to The 6th Day, an action thriller about identity theft due to clones.
Justified to some extent in that Holmes takes cases based on how much they interest him, and by a quirk of personal taste the sort of cases that interest him have a high probability of turning into murder on such occasions that they aren't murder to begin with.
In cases like The Man With the Twisted Lip, The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor, The Adventure of the Yellow Face, and The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter, Holmes investigates what looks like a criminal matter and finds there isn't even anything illegal going on.
Because Holmes isn't the police, he only gets cases after they've broken; they don't typically break in front of him in the style of latter detective novels. 'Copper Beeches' is notable for being such a mysterious mystery that not one part of it makes the slightest sense at the time it is presented to him, and it turns out to involve very bad parenting, star-crossed lovers, and dopplegangers.
The Nero Wolfe mystery novels always feature murder sooner or later, even the ones that don't start out as murder cases. Narrator and aide Archie Goodwin in the books claims that there are many other cases (in one novel, Goodwin ends up on his own and gives a very brief summary of his solo career-it's successful). He only publishes the murder cases.
In one of the Finnish Komisario Palmu novels by Mika Waltari, the eponymous Inspector Palmu chides the participant narrator for writing about some of his cases that didn't involve murder because it's the only crime worth writing about because it's irreparable. All the actual novels (and films) feature murder.
Charlie Howard, the eponymous protagonist of The Good Thief series by Chris Ewan, can scarcely steal anything without finding a dead body. The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas has a Double Subversion: the body Charlie finds isn't really dead; her accomplice, however, is.
Law & Order. Notable is the fact that characters will occasionally be called out for something that isn't murder (being homicide detectives) whether by a mixup or someone thinking something doesn't add up. They will be annoyed until they learn it was a murder, but in other episodes they will investigate crimes that aren't murder (kidnapping seems to be the biggest one) without objections, only to find a body somewhere along the road.
The early episodes of Law & Order notably averted this by mixing up crimes quite often.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent makes a point of taking place in the Major Case Squad at police headquarters rather than the precinct homicide squad of the original show, but the crime is still Always Murder. In reality, the Major Case Squad investigates kidnapping and theft, not homicide, but apparently that wasn't compelling enough for Dick Wolf.
The precincts or the Chief of Detectives usually bring Major Case in on the case. It's true that Major Case generally investigates theft & kidnapping, but the Chief of Detectives may assign cases to any unit. Sometimes the murders are connected to crimes within the purview of MCS. There is no homicide in "Homo Homini Lupus" (unless you count Eames shooting a perp) and in "Folie a Deux" the police investigate an alleged kidnapping that only later turns out to be a homicide (by negligence), so it's not Always Murder (merely almost Always Murder).
In Walker, Texas Ranger, Walker will regularly track down rapists and drug smugglers, but eventually find they killed one of their accomplices to keep him from talking.
The X-Files almost always had someone die before they rolled the opening credits, despite the fact that the FBI doesn't usually investigate plain old murder unless it's federal-such as when it occurs in connection to kidnappings across state lines and other things. However, they do consult on serial killings even when they occur within one state, which seems to be like how they get their jurisdiction for the show, called in for unexplained phenomena.
Plus, it's not like Mulder ever followed proper procedure anyway. He seemed to just choose cases at random and follow them with or without the FBI's approval.
Columbo: Kind of justified since he's a homicide detective, but he's quite often called out to investigate cases that look like accidents or suicides but turn out to be murder.
Although there was one episode where somebody got kidnapped and Columbo managed to save her from being killed, so there was absolutely no murder in that one.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: After 8 seasons and counting, this trope has only been averted a minuscule number of times, mostly in the early seasons; in the episode "Suckers", the Cold Open shows us a dead body in a pool, but we soon find out that it's just a lifeguard training dummy used to distract hotel security from an antique theft (as usual for the series, the B Plot was a straight up murder). Another early season episode featured what appeared to be a murder victim found in a dumpster but after several false leads was revealed to be a complete accident.
This trope is so prevalent that when they investigate an elderly couple found dead in their home (including one who had hit his head in the bathroom) the idea of even one of the deaths being an accident isn't even mentioned by the CSIs. It was again a series of accidents- he slipped in the tub and she fell on the knife
At least one episode has a suicide staged as a murder by a broke guy hoping his life insurance policy will provide for his brother. Unfortunately, the CSIs end up figuring out the truth.
CSI: New York, on the other hand, has had a few deaths ruled accidents and whatnot.
In Monk it is justified in that Monk is both an ex-Homicide detective and private consultant the San Francisco Police Department call in for more... interesting cases.
But, even then, even when Monk ends up investigating/or otherwise wrapped up in something that isn't murder, someone will usually end up dead anyway.
Example: "Mr. Monk and the Bully" starts with Monk and Natalie looking into a simple infidelity case after being hired by Monk's childhood bully. Then the person said bully's wife seems to be seeing turns up dead.
Another good case of this is "Mr. Monk Goes to a Rock Concert". Monk and Natalie accompany Captain Stottlemeyer to a music festival to search for his son. Monk comes along because of a misinterpretation of the words "rock show", leaving him stuck in the middle of a Wild Teen Party in the parking lot. While searching for a payphone, he accidentally walks into a port-a-potty. Natalie finds him when he comes out. Then, as Monk and Natalie are walking away, a roadie's body falls out of another port-a-potty right at their feet.
This is even pointed out by Monk in a few of the episodes.
Natalie said it best: "Everywhere you go, every time you turn around, someone is killing someone else!" It even supplies the Mystery Magnet page quote.
One season finale ends with Monk being told that he will get at least a murder a week for the next few years (a reference to the show getting an extended contract). Though it's played for laughs the whole idea is incredibly disturbing once Fridge Logic sets in.
The only Monk episode without a murder was "Mr. Monk and the Missing Granny" where the worst thing done was a kidnapping of the titular granny, and then her captors let her go because they only wanted her chair which was worth a fortune.
There was no murder in "Mr. Monk and the Kid" either.
A subversion happened in the episode "Mr. Monk and the Daredevil" - no murder is committed in the course of the episode, although a person does die in a car accident (someone comes along later and sets his car on fire), and there is an attempted murder.
Same in "Mr. Monk Is Someone Else" - no murder happens on-screen during the episode, though the person Monk impersonates is killed when he is struck by a bus.
Natalie's debut episode, "Mr. Monk and the Red Herring" only has someone killed in self-defense (by Natalie herself!) at the beginning, while no actual murders take place within the episode.
Another one of Natalie's early episodes put an interesting twist where the plot involves an attempted assassination against Natalie by an unknown sniper. The Criminal was actually targeting the photocopier, his plan being to put it out of commission so that it would have to be replaced in order to keep anyone from discovering the jammed paper inside that could convict him for arms dealing. Natalie just happened to be nearby and he wrote a threatening note to throw off the police.
NCIS often averts this as they deal with a lot of kidnappings.
And they subverted it entirely in at least one episode of season 2, "Black Water." They find the body of a Navy officer who disappeared two years ago because of a car crash, and in the end it turns out that it really was an accident, and the wreckage was tampered with to make it look like it had been a murder by a private investigator wanting to cash in on a reward for finding the officer's killer.
Dragnet managed to avoid this trope by rotating Joe Friday and his various partners through all divisions of the LAPD. As a result they proved it was possible to craft a compelling half-hour of television about a hunt for a shoplifter.
Adam-12, a Dragnet spin off, also managed to avoid this trope in showing the average working day of two regular cops. Of course, when they didn't avoid it, as in the famous episode Requiem For A Pig, it really hits home.
Pushing Daisies, by its very nature. The main character's crime-solving usefulness is mainly predicated on his ability to wake the dead, so other kinds of crime are not relevant. Although not all the deaths were murders.
Also, one episode involved Emerson tracking down a missing girl; however, someone was murdered afterwards.
A Truth in Televisionaversion of this trope (and the show title) occurred on Homicide: Life on the Street, when the Baltimore Homicide Squad investigated a child abduction. As homicide detectives are usually a police force's best investigators, it makes sense that they would handle a crime of this nature.
It doesn't hurt that in some jurisdictions, because of the odds that the missing person will be found dead, because corpses usually cannot testify as to who took them, they now treat it as a homicide case from the start so the person turning up alive can be a pleasant surprise & less evidence gets lost, because people do tend to take homicide cases more seriously.
Bones, mainly because half the cast only works with dead people. There's always a corpse, but it isn't always murder-a few deaths have turned out to be accidents.
Recent notable subversion, "The Patriot in Purgatory": Vasiri identified the remains of a homeless vet who had died days after the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11. By the end of the episode, they confirmed that he had died from injuries sustained while pulling people out of the rubble.
Jonathan Creek played this straight most of the time, though it was occasionally averted in later seasons.
Inspector Morse pretty much does this one straight all the time, which is especially ironic considering that in real life Oxford has had barely any murders in the past 50 years.
One death that appeared to be an accident really was an accident, but Morse's investigation uncovered an art fraud ring.
Murder, She Wrote, appropriately to its title, plays this painfully straight in every episode but one. Jessica Fletcher was an incidental bystander for twelve seasons and six TV-movies.
Almost every "case" the brothers take on begins with someone dying horribly. Of course, the killer is usually a ghost, demon, or monster of some kind, so whether it's technically murder is open to question (is it still homicide when the perpetrator died before the victim?).
And while the brothers are ghostie and ghoulie magnets even outside of their tendency to be tangled up in the latest Myth Arc and targeted, they also find their jobs and intentionally drive ridiculous distances to them based on accounts of especially suspicious-sounding deaths in newspapers. With this modus operandi, it makes sense that it would usually be murder, given creepy death apparently draws them like bees to honey.
There was at least one time it actually was murder, in that the ghost they thought was their perp was actually trying to give warning about the crooked cop who knifed her and the imminence of his knifing them. Naturally, he arrested the guys for his crime that they thought had been committed by a dead woman.
Cold Case usually plays this trope straight. However, there were at least four deaths ruled as accident ("Fly Away", "The Boy in the Box", "Yo, Adrian", and "Roller Girl") and at least three others ruled as suicides or as a result of suicides ( "Daniella", "Best Friends", and "Two Weddings"), at least one ruled as self defense / justifiable homicide ( "Justice"). Heck, one case even had the presumed victim still be alive ("Fireflies").
Subverted in an episode of Quincy: The corpse of the man who had apparently been beaten to death in an alley really died of natural causes: he'd had a medical condition which caused convulsions, and he'd beaten himself to death.
Also averted in at least two episodes: "Semper Fi" (in which a soldier found dead while doing night maneuvers turned out to have committed suicide) and "Murder By S.O.P." (where the doctor who knows who committed that episode's murder and can prove it is killed in a car accident which is a genuine car accident).
Heartbeat dealt with other kinds of serious crime too-including abortion in one episode (which was still illegal at the time the series was set).
Unforgettable so far has had every episode center around a homicide, though sometimes other crimes are discovered over the course of the homicide investigation. Justified in that the main characters are homicide detectives.
Averted in one episode of Life On Mars, in which it seems like a man working in a factory has been brutally slashed to death, and one older worker confesses to murdering him and trying to cover it up. It turns out that actually, the wounds the man died of line up to one big, whip-like blow, made when the metal-reinforced, leather belt on his machine snapped. The 'murderer' tried to cover up what really happened so that the mill wouldn't be shut down, because the workers were in a union dispute and had no job security.
Early on in Quantum Leap, usually the thing that Sam had to put right was, though life-altering, not usually fatal (like winning a baseball game, stopping a girl from marrying the wrong person, or inspiring Buddy Holly to write "Peggy Sue"). However, in later seasons, nearly every episode involved Sam having to take action, or else X...would die!
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a series where most deaths have supernatural causes, this is averted in "The Body" where Buffy's mother dies from natural causes. Xander suspected Glory was behind it, but this was disregarded because if Glory was behind it she would have made sure they knew it.
On the real-life show Unsolved Mysteries, this happened quite frequently. A large number of the cases would be introduced by host Robert Stack announcing that a body was found and saying often verbatim, "The police say a suicide, but his family says murder." Though it was often split; sometimes it was obviously a suicide, and the show's producers were simply sympathizing with the family; in others, it was so obviously not a suicide-you wonder who the police thought they were fooling.
Usually averted on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The detectives get a murder from time to time but most of the cases are crimes like robbery, missing persons or even purse snatching and vandalism. This is played with in one episode where the detective quickly decides that the death was caused by natural causes and then slacks off while he waits for a confirmation from the medical examiner. When it turns out that the man was poisoned, the detective is quite embarrassed. However, once cause of death is established, the case is easily solved since all the evidence points to the wife and she immediately confesses when confronted.
In one arc of Forensic Heroes, instead of the typical murder case that the Forensic unit handle they had to deal with a famous celebrity who had recently been assaulted and found unconscious and it all points to the entertainment industry looking to destroy her career. It turns out she had reneged on an offer to help donate bone marrow to a girl, her mother was upset by that, and the ensuing chase found her unconscious. There was no murder but the celebrity had to finally face the fallout of her actions.
Goes without saying in Midsomer Murders: although a few episodes open with Barnaby investigating less serious crimes, it always ends up in a murder investigation. Also very old deaths that were put down to accidents or suicide almost always turn out to be murders as well.
The murder rate in the (fictional) county of Midsomer should have left it a ghost town (well, county).
One episode opens with Barnaby preparing to arrest a low life criminal; when the police swoop to make the arrest they find the criminal lying dead on the ground with a pitchfork sticking out of his back. Barnaby takes one look and utters "Oh for goodness sake!"
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: The case might start out as locating a missing hat, but someone's going to die soon enough. The title should be something of a clue.
Parodied in Animal Crackers, when Spaulding is examining the painting John has forged:
Spaulding: It's signed Beaugard. There's the criminal, Beaugard. John: No, Beaugard is dead. Spaulding: Beaugard is dead. Then it's murder.
All of the cases in Ace Attorney seem to involve a murder of some kind:
The whole series is a huge lampshading of this trope, seeing as how this is pointed out since the first game. If you present Mia's autopsy report to Gumshoe, Phoenix says how unusual it is for a newbie lawyer to take on two murders in a row.
Then in Rise from the Ashes, Gumshoe once again lampshades it by pondering why they seem to be no other crime reports apart from murder in this district.
Indeed, the one case Phoenix took that wasn't a murder turned out to be a cover for a murder across town. Maya lampshades it:
"I'm so used to thinking of the victim as a dead person 'cause we're always on murder cases."
In an interesting example, case 2 of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney starts off with three seemingly unrelated cases (a hit-and-run, a noodle stand theft and a panty theft) before they all come together in—you guessed it—a murder.
In Ace Attorney Investigations, the third case starts out as a kidnapping, until someone ends up dead. He turns out to be a kidnapper. Sort of.
The whole game is Always Murder incarnate. The game takes place over a few days and Edgeworth solves four murder cases in that timeframe (including two murders in a single day, one of which happens in his own office, no less).
Gyakuten Kenji 2/Ace Attorney Investigations 2 has a case where Edgeworth and a friend go to a location to discuss a murder case that took place there 18 years prior. They wind up getting caught in a poison gas attack (that doesn't kill anyone) and then discover the body from the past case during the resulting investigation (it had been lost at the time). This results in Edgeworth solving both the poison gas case and the 18-year old murder case simultaneously (because everyone still alive from the past case is also at the site that day, including the person who really killed the victim).
Interestingly, the case that ends up causing Phoenix to lose his attorney's badge was actually suicide.
Not ALL cases involve murders though. For example, 1-3 has a death of a man that seems like a homicide but was actually manslaughter in self-defense. In fact in Rise from the Ashes, its played straight then it subverts itself then double subverts when the death of Neil Marshall is thought to be a murder by Darke but turns out to be (accidental) manslaughter by Ema made to look like murder that then later turns out to be a set up the real murderer to make the original actual murder look like manslaughter. In other words it was a murder made to look like manslaughter made to look like a murder.
Subverted in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies during the DLC case involving defending an Orca and eventually her trainer. It turns out the victim wasn't murdered at all and the suspect actually tried to save him from falling to his death. It was all just freak accident.
In the Laura Bow games, various people commit various crimes which always end in murder.
The online game Sleuth has you create and play a private detective. Apparently though, the only crime you ever investigate is murder. Every case is a murder, with nary a blackmailing or kidnapping or burglary or stakeout to catch a cheating spouse in sight.
Virtue's Last Reward is so twisty with this that, depending on which timeline and path you play in the game, straight plays can seem like subverts and vis-versa, and entire parts become completely different, and in actual fact, in a sense most of the main murders end up not having murder victims depending on which way you look at it.
This is concerning mainly Alice and Luna's "murders" but can also be applied to the murder of Akane and most of the twisty nature of this trope comes down the the way the plot is presented.
Alice is straight out shown to commit suicide in some paths, while in others she's found dead and the characters assume she was murdered. This in itself is subverted in dialogue, by several people who point out they can't assume she was murdered. In one of the paths, you have to use info from another path where you saw her commit suicide to prove to someone that there's no "murderer". In other paths, she is found without a knife in her stomach, which is different to the weapon she used in other timelines to commit suicide, thus throwing more subvertion into the works.
Luna never died, due to her being a robot. But you don't learnt his until never the end of one of the paths, with the the other paths treating it like she was murdered. Even the person who "gave her the killing blow" though she killed her.
Akane is probably the most confusing on. Depending on what path you're talking about she's either murder, or she's not. In the case where she's not murdered, she was SUPPOSED to have been murdered. Or at least, that's what it seems like. But it turns out that, due to "future choices affect the past", she actually was STOPPED from being murdered in the past, due to a certain series of choices leading to her death being erased.