Adrian Monk: [distracted by Natalie drinking a bottle of mouthwash] Will you please? And thatís why they chose me. Adrian Monk, the perfect patsy! They knew about my problems. They knew Iíd never take a good look at the guy. So, there never really was a leper except for the guy you were making out with all night.The perp hires a detective to solve the crime, in order to throw suspicion off himself. The perp may have a plan to make the detective a Fall Guy for the crime. Or it may be done merely to strengthen their claim that they're innocent and ignorant of the crime (the same logic that sometimes leads criminals to report their own crimes to the police). Typically, the detective in question is a Defective Detective, to minimize the odds of him actually working it out. Invariably, the detective turns out to be not quite so defective as the perp thought, and figures it all out. This often leads to monologuing (both from the Detective and the Perp) and the inevitable "The only thing I couldn't figure out was..." statement during the Final Confrontation. This is an archetypal trope, as even Sherlock Holmes was abused like this. This trope is often used as a reveal or twist, expect spoilers below.
— Monk, "Mr. Monk and the Leper"
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- In StrikerS Sound Stage X of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, Teana found herself in this role, as she eventually found out that the perp who was behind the killings of the case she was investigating was Runessa, her assistant who had been part of the case since day one and who regarded the already dead fanatic Toredia as a mentor and father figure.
- In Detective Conan, a case that had both Conan and Heiji working together in Osaka had the detective who was helping them and Kogoro to catch a serial killer... as the killer himself. The victims were the people who caused the death of his father, 25 years ago; he specifically became a policeman to find them, make them spit the truth out, and then kill them in a way that would both baffle the whole Osaka police corps ''and'' let him blame someone else for it.
- In The Firesign Theatre's "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger", Nancy claims to need Nick's help, but really, she just wants a patsy to frame for the murder of Rocky Roccoco, who is blackmailing her.
- In the Sherlock Holmes radio play "The Case of the Determined Client," the client tampers with a crime scene to make it look as though her father had been murdered outright, rather than starting the fight with the man who killed him. When the police don't even notice her hints, she calls in Sherlock Holmes, who naturally sees not only the evidence she'd left but that she was the one who left it. She ruefully admits that she should have known better.
- Randall Banticoff does this to Luke Cage in Luke Cage Noir, hiring Cage to investigate his wife's murder while arranging for him to take the rap for the crime - and die before a trial could potentially expose it as a frame job.
- A Villain Ball situation even by this trope's standards, since most people would have the brains to pin the crime on one of the many, many detectives who are not invulnerable.
- Taken to the extreme in Sin City where Eva Lord hires private eye Dwight McCarthy to get evidence on her supposedly abusive husband who may be plotting to kill her. It ends up being a setup; she manipulates Dwight into killing her husband himself.
- Happens to Jake Gittes at the start of Chinatown.
- In the movie Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Ace is hired by an Englishman trying to harvest bat guano for fertilizer, who has to start a genocidal war between local African tribes to get it. Ace was hired as a means of establishing for the public that he had done everything he could to prevent the war. When Ace unexpectedly figures out who is behind the scheme to wipe out the innocent tribe, the Englishman decides to change his plans and set Ace up as a patsy for the whole thing.
- The 1987 thriller No Way Out subverts this: Commander Tom Farrell, the man that Defense Secretary David Brice and his aide Scott Pritchard hire to investigate a murder that they are attempting to blame on a Soviet mole is the person they are trying to frame and knows that Brice is the one actually guilty of the murder.
- Nero Wolfe once required a client to sign a statement promising to pay in full, even if he turned out to be the guilty one. It turned out to be a good precaution.
- Writer Ross Macdonald's characters, particularly Lew Archer, were picked so often for plots like this, it's hardly any wonder that they always demanded payment in advance.
- Ur-Example is probably the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Retired Colourman. A quote from the end of the story:
"You certainly seem to have met every difficulty," said the inspector. "Of course, he was bound to call us in, but why he should have gone to you I can't understand."
"Pure swank!" Holmes answered. "He felt so clever and so sure of himself that he imagined no one could touch him. He could say to any suspicious neighbour, 'Look at the steps I have taken. I have consulted not only the police but even Sherlock Holmes.'"
- Who Censored Roger Rabbit?: Roger hired Eddie Valiant to investigate his boss - so that Roger would have someone to frame when he killed his boss. In the final chapter Eddie admits that the plan would have worked were it not for two complications that Roger had no way of seeing coming.
- Happens to young and unexperienced Bert Kling in 87th Precinct novel The Muggler.
- The Cuckoo's Calling: John Bristow hired Cormoran Strike to investigate his stepsister's death, in the hopes of deflecting suspicion from himself.
- In the first Sister Fidelma story, "The High King's Sword", the abbot is encouraged to request Fidelma by the criminals, who realise that unless a clever and scrupulous dalaigh is involved, one of them will be condemned as the most likely suspect without anyone really investigating enough to find their carefully planted frame-up.
Live Action TV
- The Rockford Files seemed to do this a lot, but all shows about private detectives will do one eventually.
- Usually not applicable to police, but Columbo caught one once, when the murderer was the commissioner. He specifically requested Columbo for the case, having somehow failed to notice that the bumbling detective had only failed to close one case in his entire career.
- Another police example is the CSI fourth season episode Suckers where a casino owner attempts to fake a huge robbery for the insurance money.
- In an episode of Poirot, a shifty old lady tried to abuse Capt. Hastings in this way; she had the sense not to go to Poirot directly. In the books, however, Poirot frequently finds himself working for clients with something to hide — though not necessarily murder.
- Monk: In "Mr. Monk and the Leper," Monk is hired by a man who introduces himself as Derek Bronson, who has been missing for seven years and will soon be declared legally dead at a probate hearing. He has Monk and Natalie break into his house to retrieve some letters, and while they're doing so, they are caught by Mandy Bronson, Derek's wife. Monk then attends a probate hearing where he testifies and validates Mandy's story that Derek is alive. All is well....until Monk sees Julie trying to open a bottle of ketchup and she comments, "Who would need ketchup in 1840?" causing Monk to realize that he's been duped, because the security panel in Derek's house had the words "Founded 2003" on it, so he wonders how Derek could know his own house security code for a system installed after he had vanished. He concludes that seven years ago, Mandy murdered her husband, then got rid of the body and lived off his money, aware that when he was officially declared dead, she'd lose his house, so she hired an acquaintance - a professional pianist - and seduced him to impersonate Derek, and they brought Monk in as a "witness" because they knew that if he thought Derek was a leper, he'd never want to take a good look at the man (further helped by making the meetings happen in dimly lit locations). Monk and Natalie then discover that Mandy has shot and killed the accomplice and is planning to get rid of his body in the same way she got rid of her husband's.
- Happens so frequently in Jonathan Creek that merely soliciting his services should be ample proof of guilt.
- Lampshaded in Dark Justice: a not-so-bright gigolo and his girlfriend hire a female detective to solve the murder of the rich woman he was living off. The detective easily proves it was these two who did the deed, and asks why she was hired. The gigolo says he thought no-one would suspect him if he did.
Detective: It was done in Jagged Edge!Girlfriend (to gigolo boyfriend): I wanted to see that movie, but you said no!
- A weird one in Murder, She Wrote: The murderer is a DA, who killed one of the defendants in a major fraud case. Earlier, he tried to phone her and accidentally called Jessica's number. To cover this up, the DA subpeonas Jessica and refuses to believe she has no idea what it's about. So Jessica has to solve the murder to avoid being found in contempt of court.
- In Sledge Hammer!: the episode "Play It Again, Sledge" has a women hire Sledge as private investigator, to make him an eyewitness of her "self-defence" murder.
- Cold Case had an interesting variation: A professor was accused, but never proven guilty, of the murder of one of his female students. Because of this he was discredited and fired by the university. He went to the team to have them reopen the case, only for them to figure out was him all along, and this time they gathered enough evidence to arrest and convict him. Oops.
- An episode of Simon And Simon deals with the detectives being hired by a magician into a case, and they discover that the ex wife of the magician did it. Later, they discover it was all the magician ruse. Then he explains:
So it was just like a standard Stage Magician trick: You guys are the public, you must be smart enough to figure out the distraction, but not smart enough to discover the real trick.
- A convoluted one in the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Murdoch Appreciation Society". The killer wants to frame the professor who expelled him from medical school for the murder of a man who's donated his brain to science. But he knows that if the death doesn't look suspicious, the corpse will go straight to the professor and there won't be a proper post mortem. On the other hand, if it does look like an obvious murder, Murdoch will realise the professor is being framed. So he joins the eponymous Appreciation Society and convinces them to stage a fake murder so they can watch Murdoch work, using a body he can steal from the medical school. So not only does Murdoch get involved but there's an extra layer of false explanation (the fake murder) for him to disprove, and it looks like the professor would have committed a perfect crime except for the Society's interference.
- Amateur Adventure Game example: the AGS adventure game Murder in a Wheel features a freelance detective who has to solve the murder of a pet hamster only to find himself in this situation.
- Ace Attorney had a lawyer patsy: in case 2 of Apollo Justice, the title character is hired by the guilty party to help the innocent defendant, because the flyers for Apollo's practice made him seem likely to be incompetent.
- Non-detective variation: In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Olga is first seen in the Plant Chapter contacting Solidus by radio, alerting him to the presence of "a ninja." Much later, it is revealed that she's the ninja.
- In the third chapter of Limbo of the Lost, after being wrongfully accused of stealing souls, Briggs is accounted for by collector O'Negus, freed, and appointed detective by the mayor to determine who is actually stealing the souls. It turns out that the soul taker is posing as the mayor, and O'Negus is one of his accomplices.
- In Jack Orlando, it looks like Orlando is lucky to be allowed to try to prove his own innocence, but since the Inspector is actually in on the crime, Orlando isn't meant to get anywhere. Part way through the game, Orlando gets in trouble again and is told to wait for the Inspector - but if he does, the Inspector decides that he's making too much progress and locks him up, resulting in a Non-Standard Game Over.
- Occurs in Nancy Drew: The Deadly Device; believing Nancy Drew to be less-than-competent, the murderer hires her to investigate the death of a scientist.