"Brick, down in the gutter, had dropped below even that horizon. No wonder Chrysoprase's shakedown hadn't corralled him. Brick was something you stepped over."
A character who is clearly linked with all the victims of a crime spree is not even regarded as a suspect by the detectives until halfway through the final act.
Often seen in conjuction with Never One Murder
. More often than not ruined in live action by a familiar face
Pretty much endemic in murder mysteries, especially British ones like Taggart, Midsomer Murders,
et al. Done properly, the writer will be able to convince even the audience, who are Genre Savvy
enough to regard everybody
with suspicion, even the detectives.
Source of The Butler Did It
. Also see The Dog Was the Mastermind
, Beneath Notice
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Anime and Manga
- Played with in the first Scary Movie, as the killer is "posing" as mentally handicapped.
- The obvious candidate in the 2007 horror Drive Thru is the owner of the drive thru chain and the father of the kid died in an accident when he was 18. The police only suspect him 3 quarters into the movie, but this is subverted as they are Wrong Genre Savvy: they're not in a normal murder mystery, the killer is the ghost of the dead kid.
- Played with (with everything else) in Hot Fuzz; whenever Nicholas voices his suspicions of Simon Skinner, people respond that he runs the local supermarket, as though that puts him beyond all possibility of wrongdoing.
- An animated example: in Hoodwinked, this trope pretty much describes Boingo. All four of the parties in a simple domestic disturbance turn out to have separate encounters with him: Red Puckett meets him while she's riding her bike, the Wolf asks him for a shortcut to Granny's house, he is the first person to show up after Kirk's truck is raided, and he asks Granny for her autograph before the ski race.
- Saw - Nobody, not even the audience, thinks that the "dead" body in the room where the protagonists are trapped in is just Faking the Dead and is in fact the mastermind.
- Similarly in Murder by Death (1976), several candidates are nominated for murderer, and the big reveal at the end? The twist was that there was no murder at all (except maybe of a weekend) because the corpse gets up and thanks everybody for making a fool of themselves; he only invited the world's best detectives in order to extort money from them...note
- The titular character in Fresh pulls off a Batman Gambit on the two local drug gangs, using them to get rid of his enemies and ensure a living for himself and his sister outside of the crime-riddled ghetto they are currently living in. His plan is to get caught by one gang while running drugs for the other and making both believe someone is trying to steal their business. It works, because no one suspects that the 12 year old Fresh could possibly be enough of a Manipulative Bastard, or have enough resources, to have planned everything by himself.
- All the working class characters in Gosford Park are considered this by the detective since the murder victim was upper-class and the detective is only interested in anyone who had "a real connection" with the victim. Had he bothered to question any of the servants, he might have learned that the victim had slept with some of them.
- In the Revenge of the Sith novelization, Mace Windu states that the only reason Palpatine (the guilty party) is above suspicion of being the Big Bad infiltrating the Senate is because he already rules the galaxy.
- Justified in Parfum (the book, not made clear in the film) because Gaston has no personal smell he almost cannot be remembered and slides under everybody's radar.
- John Dickson Carr:
- The killer in Below Suspicion was in a prison cell when the murder was committed.
- Remarked on in an essay on the Fair Play Whodunnit: "never remind the reader that a suspect has an airtight alibi, or he'll immediately be suspected. Treat it as such a given that it never occurs to the detective (or the writer!) to suspect Joe because Joe is so obviously innocent."
- Harry Potter
- Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
- Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
- Deconstructed or something in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry's spying on Draco Malfoy has him convinced that Malfoy is a Death Eater and responsible for lots of the life-threatening mischief at Hogwarts that year. Everyone he talks to finds this very far-fetched, because Malfoy's just a teenage student and not even a particularly competent one. Of course, he turns out to be right.
- It's also played straight in the same book. Harry never once suspects the correct person of being the Half-Blood Prince and has to be told who it is. This is despite his habit of suspecting Snape of anything, and also the (once common) tradition in British schools of school teachers keeping their favourite text book in the book cupboard and it only ending up in the hands of pupils if they're desperate (precisely because of how moth-eaten and scrawled over these books often were). Apparently Ron and Harry were familiar enough with their own education system to fight over who didn't get the old book, but weren't familiar enough to associate that book with being the teacher's. As a result, the one time Snape should have legitimately been one of Harry's (or at least Hermione's) first suspects was the one time he inexplicably wasn't suspected at all. On the other hand, Slughorn had taken over for Snape as potions master that year, so they only had Slughorn to relate it to.
- Also used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. You can't get much more beneath suspicion than someone's pet rat.
- Animagi seem to like using this reasoning, especially unregistered ones. In Philosopher's Stone, Professor McGonagall spends all day spying on the Dursleys in the form of a cat. Later on, various other animagi try using the same reasoning with varying degrees of success, such as Sirius trying to get away with using his dog-form and Rita Skeeter obtaining her stories by turning into a bug.
- Lots and lots of Agatha Christie novels. It gets to the point that the character(s) that have absolutely rock-solid alibis are often the ones responsible. Examples include Lord Edgware Dies (she was at a party with friends), Death on the Nile (one had been shot in the leg, the other with a nurse looking over her) and Murder in Mesopotamia (he was on the roof while the victim was downstairs). In many cases, Christie deliberately does not point out that the suspect has an apparently unshakable alibi to avoid evoking the obvious reaction.
- The murderer in Tamora Pierce's Shatterglass ends up being a prathmun, a member of the Untouchable caste, considered so low and degraded that to even acknowledge his presence requires being ritually purified afterward.
- Deliberately invoked by John Kelly in Without Remorse when he goes on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge while disguised as a bum. Had he not accidentally walked onto the scene of a totally unrelated mugging and left behind a wine bottle with no fingerprints on it, the police might not have realized how he was operating.
- In Dune, Dr. Wellington Yueh is the obvious suspect to be the traitor who will betray the Atreides to their Harkonnen rivals. However, he has supposedly been the recipient of Sukh mental conditioning, guaranteeing that he can never voluntarily take a human life. Therefore he is able to fool even a Living Lie Detector who is specifically alert for signs of potential treachery. In other words, he is set up as a Red Herring Mole to conceal the fact that he is actually The Mole.
- The page quote comes from Thud!, in which a prominent dwarf religious leader is murdered in a dwarf mine, with a troll's club beside him. Despite both dwarves and trolls searching for the murderer, no one ever looks at the troll junkie Brick. Subverted, however, because Brick isn't the murderer. He's a witness, albeit an unreliable one, because he was there totally by accident and still on a drug high.
- When it becomes clear that there's a traitor to the White Council in The Dresden Files, everyone's prime suspects include people like The Captain of the Wardens, members of the Senior Council, or Dresden himself. Until Turn Coat, nobody suspects that the traitor is the Senior Council's secretary who, while not an officially high position, does have access to all the information the ranking officers do.
- In G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories, the detective-priest observes that nobody ever notices people who are meant to be there...
'You are not mad,' said Brown, 'only a little unobservant. You have not noticed such a man as this, for example.'
He took three quick strides forward, and put his hand on the shoulder of an ordinary passing postman who had bustled by them unnoticed under the shade of the trees.
'Nobody ever notices postmen somehow,' he said thoughtfully; 'yet they have passions like other men, and even carry large bags where a small corpse can be stowed quite easily.'
- Phoenix Rising: Poplock is an intelligent toad. He is usually small for one such, and often pretends to be a normal dumb toad. At times, he also plays as being Tobimar's pet toad.
- In J.K Rowling's The Cuckoo's Calling, the murderer turns out to be the brother of the first victim, who was the one who initially hired the detective after the police ruled the death a suicide, and is for most of the book the only one convinced her death was murder
Live Action TV
- This is used in an episode of Sherlock when the killer was a taxi driver.
Sherlock: This is his hunting ground. Right here, in the heart of the city. Now that we know that his victims were abducted, that changes everything. 'Cause all of his victims disappeared from busy streets, crowded places, but nobody saw them go. Think! Who do we trust, even though we don't know them? Who passes, unnoticed, wherever they go? Who hunts in the middle of a crowd?
Watson: I dunno, who?
Sherlock: ... I haven't the faintest. Hungry?
- Heck, they even chase him down when the the murderer falls for their bait using the victim's cellphone, but let him go because the passenger in the taxi was newly arrived from out of town, they don't even think of the DRIVER of the taxi. When confronting Sherlock later, he brags about it
- In the same episode, John Watson is one of the first people at the scene when the killer is gunned down, talks about the incident with the detective sergeant working the case and is never once considered a suspect. Sherlock spots it instantly.
- The American version, Elementary, pulled a similar trick in one episode - a COO of a major firm is found dead, Sherlock discovers a rash of similar murders in the company spanning several years, and the only executive who can be clearly linked to all the murders alibis out. Sherlock doesn't think until much later to check out that executive's secretary, about which he points out when he does think of it, "no one ever remembers the secretary, do they?"
- Unnatural History: Ambassador Tolo's PR representative.
- Ellery Queen: The killer in "The Adventure of the Pharaoh's Curse". This was one of the only episodes where the killer was not one of the suspects named in the opening monologue.
- Supernatural: In "Something Wicked", the Monster of the Week in a small town is none other than the doctor who is treating the patients (children who have had the energy sucked out of them by said monster).
- Patrick Jane, The Mentalist, has caught several killers who escaped others' suspicion by pretending to be disabled, mentally handicapped, and such.
- On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy gets a job at a local burger joint with a high turnover rate. She finds a human finger in the meat grinder and believes that they're killing the employees for food. Instead, it turns out that they're being eaten by a demonic customer who looks like a harmless old lady.
- In Los Misterios de Laura, a guy is poisoned and wakes up amnesiac after an emergency operation at the hospital. Immediately afterwards, a mysterious woman he doesn't know claims to be his wife and insists he signs some documents, as her husband, so they can access a locked security vault at a bank. The woman the guy claims was his real wife claims she's married to someone else and then is suspiciously killed after she attempts to call the police, leaving incriminating evidence pointing at the "other" wife. Then she tries to get him incapacitated so she can finally take over all his accounts without needing him around anymore. In the end, the criminal was the amnesiac guy, who was truly married to that woman and was only feigning amnesia and pinning a whole lot of heavily suspicious actions on his wife so the Genre Savvy detective would fall for it and arrest her, forcing her brother, who he wanted to get revenge on, to come out of hiding to give decisive evidence on his sister's favour.
- On The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries, in the episode Campus Terror, Joe Hardy's old flame Wendy calls the brothers in to help solve a series of kidnappings and disappearances taking place in an East Coast women's college, as she's the next targeted victim. She barely escapes an attack as the Hardys rush in moments after the attacker has fled & both the Hardys & the police treat her as just another victim. While suspicion falls on various men around campus (a young man who's stalking one of the female students, a professor with a history of evil experiments, the school's male self-defense teacher), it turns out that Wendy herself is the kidnapper, suffering from delusional split-personality episodes, and her "other personality" faked the attack to throw the police off.
- In one Paranoia adventure, when a robot claims to have video footage exonerating the PCs, the gamemaster is advised to maintain this trope: "Don't go 'heeeeeeey, there's a data port right over there, wanna try it?'. Wait for the PCs to ask if there's a data port nearby, then casually say 'oh yeah, there's one over in the corner'." When the robot is hooked up, it restores the previously-crashed Computer.
- And more generally, due to this trope, Infrared-level citizens as a whole are subject to less scrutiny and surveillance than those who are officially more "trusted". Most of them really are too stupid and drugged to do anything really bad, but occasionally Internal Security will hide an agent that way.