Interrogating the Dead
Nina Sharp: How long has he been dead?Death. The End. Once you're down for the count, you aren't getting back up. There's no way you can tell the police or other law enforcement agencies who dunnit to you. Fortunately, the authorities have advanced technology at their disposal that can either revive you or scan your post-mortem mind in order to gather information. So just lie back on that slab and start talking. When it is inspired by or refers to an old legend that a murder victim's eyes will hold a reflection of the last thing he saw, it is Eye Remember. Sometimes overlaps with Dead Person Conversation and I See Dead People.
Orderly: Five hours.
Nina Sharp: Question him.
Orderly: Five hours.
Nina Sharp: Question him.
— Fringe, Pilot
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Anime & Manga
- The Sandman
- Arc "A Game of You": Thessaly the witch, having disposed of her More Than Meets the Eye neighbour George for trying to kill her, promptly brings his spirit back in order to find out who sent him. How she does so is another trope entirely.
- In "The Kindly Ones" arc, the second Corinthian is able to witness the memories of those whose eyes he eats.
- Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Chromedome reveals that he has this ability, turning his fingers into needles and sticking them through the dead targets eyes, seeing what they saw in their last moments.
Chromedome: Ratchet, could you put his brain back in his head? With corpses, I prefer to go through the eye sockets.Drift: I cannot begin to tell you what's wrong with that sentence.
Films — Animation
- Sinestro does this in Green Lantern: First Flight, reanimating a crook he executed to question him on the location of the Yellow Element.
Sinestro: You're in the morgue. You're dead.
Sinestro: I killed you. I'm reconnecting synapses for some information. This shouldn't take long.
Films — Live-Action
- G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: Breaker stabs two needles in the sides of an dead assailant's head claiming that he can scan the mind for about three minutes after death. The guy is eaten by nanomachines before he can reveal anything more than a single image.
- Hellboy: Hellboy dugs up corpse Ivan and reanimate him to have a guide in the Russian cemetary.
- Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Dr. Krauss uses his magic gas stuff to briefly reanimate one of the Tooth Fairies for interrogation.
- The Princess Bride. Miracle Max uses a bellows to allow a mostly dead Westley to reveal that his motivation for living is "true love".
- A shinto priest allows the victim to speak through him by magic and give his version of the murder in Rashomon.
- In The 6th Day , the mind scan used to imprint clones with their donors memories also works on corpses for a few hours after death. As well as imprinting clones, the recordings can also be reviewed via computer, seeing through the eyes of the donor.
- In Dark Star, dead and cryogenically frozen Commander Powell can still be asked for advice.
- Journeyman Wizard by Mary Frances Zambrano has the heroes perform a Questing (the magical version of this), only to bring back the deceased's vengeful ghost instead.
- Played for laughs in a Discworld story, "Theatre of Cruelty", in which it's mentioned that the existence of zombies mean that the victims are sometimes the key witnesses in their own murder.
- Also played straight-ish(as straight as any trope on the Disc can be played, anyways) in Making Money, where a dead professor from the Unseen University is brought back to consult on an ancient civilization.
- In the Babylon 5 Expanded Universe novels, Technomages have developed a technique to extract memories from dead brains with nanotechnology. It's not pretty.
- Heretics of Dune: An Ixian Probe can scan the mind of a recently dead person. Taking the drug "shere" will prevent a probe from working long enough for the brain cells to die and become unreadable.
- Necroscope: Harry Keogh can converse with murder victims due to his clairvoyance. There are also various vampire necromancers that bind souls to corpses so they can torture the truth out of them.
- Strange does this with some enemy soldiers in the Napoleonic War chapters of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
- Speaking with the Dead by Elaine Cunningham (Realms of Mystery anthology), as one can guess, is about this with a "little" twist.
- In Xenos, Inquisitor Eisenhorn and Commodus Voke attempt to interrogate the high level psyker they kill. The psyker turns the interrogation into a portal to the warp, sending multiple daemons to attack the gathered Inquisitors.
- This is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the key tricks of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, later to be Johannes Cabal the Detective.
- In the Nightside series, Walker gets pretty sick and tired of people reminiscing about the time he invoked this trope, using his Voice to question a dead body.
- There are various ways to do this in The Dresden Files, most of them against strictly-enforced rules. Rules enforced with pointy objects and angry wizards. Molly does one of the legitimate ones, on what turned out to be the victim of a succubus. Awkwardness ensued for the watchers. Most of those other ways tend to involve Necromancy, and invite Wardens to come and behead people.
- The so-called "mechanical educators" in E. E. “Doc” Smith's Skylark Series can be used to read dead minds, as long as they're relatively intact and haven't been dead for more than a few hours.
- The first chapter of Greg Egan's Distress features police with a technology that briefly brings back people from the dead, which is used to aid in solving murders.
- Odysseus Grant demonstrated that this was part of his bag of tricks during Kitty's House of Horrors. It is not something he does lightly.
- Pushing Daisies: Ned can revive the dead by touching them once. Touching them a second time kills them again. He uses this to glean information from murder victims to help the team start their investigation.
- Torchwood occasionally has the Torchwood team use a gauntlet that can revive the dead for about a minute to aid the investigation. It's a piece of Imported Alien Phlebotinum they acquired before the series begins and they don't have the first clue how it actually works. It also ended up kicking off the whole plot of the pilot episode: Torchwood operative Susie Costello had a pet theory that it held the key to immortality, and was attempting to learn more about it... which, unfortunately, required a steady supply of fresh corpses. You can see where this is going, can't you?
- Walter Bishop has developed a technique to extract information from a corpse, provided the body has been dead for less than five hours. It is implied that William Bell is capable of doing this as well.
- Fringe likes this trope. As well as providing the page quote, they have used the aforementioned technology to interrogate two people, sent the protagonist into a dreamstate to interrogate the mental ghost of her partner formed after a telepathic conversation, and used the "the eyes store the last thing you see" version.
- In MADtv there is a skit that parodies CSI. The victim, who was clearly murdered by the knife sticking out of his back, is straddled by the lead investigator, grabbed by his collar, and shaken while the lead investigator says, "HOW DID YOU DIE?"
- Miles on Lost can detect a dead person's last thought and determine how the person died, as long as he is near the body.
Host: (notices the knife sticking out of his chest) How am I still alive?
- One episode features an evil spirit that possesses one of the sisters after killing its previous host. The demon who was pursuing the spirit finds the previous host's body later in the episode and uses his powers to momentarily resurrect said host in order to learn the identity of the spirit's new host. Once he has the desired information, the dead previous host is unceremoniously re-killed.
Demon: Not still. Again. That's my specialty, along with this. (rekills host)
- Another episode involves Phoebe trying to convince a room of jurors that a magician didn't kill his wife and that he only knew where to find the body and the weapon was due to a premonition. The jurors grow increasingly skeptical, so what does Phoebe do? Cast a spell to summon the dead wife.
- Salem: Tituba calls up William Hooke's soul by necromancy to find out John Alden's secret, channeling it through his dead face.
- Stargate Atlantis: In the series finale "Enemy at the Gate", the Wraith leader of the Hiveship attacking Earth revives the fallen Ronan so he can question him about the infiltrators on his ship. This gives his friends the opportunity to rescue him.
- Dungeons & Dragons has the third-level clerical spell Speak with Dead. Although it actually draws information from an "imprint" left on the body rather than truly bringing them back to life. It allows you to ask one question of the dead person per two caster levels (up to 10 for a max-level cleric).
- Nearly every gameline in the New World of Darkness has a Discipline/Spell/Manifestation/Contract/what-have-you to provide this sort of power, though the Sin-Eaters tend to do it most often.
- Exalted has several ways of doing this; most of them involving summoning up ghosts. One notable thaumaturgic ritual requires you to remove the flesh from the skull, use bronze wire to fix the jaw in place and ritualistically make out with it for a few minutes before you can interrogate it.
- Wereravens in Werewolf: The Apocalypse have the unique ability to absorb the last sight of the dead by eating their eyeballs. Among other uses, it lets them find out what killed the poor sap. Allegedly, this is an acquired taste.
- Magic: The Gathering: In the backstory of the Innistrad block, Liliana Vess comes to the plane seeking the demon Griselbrand to kill him and to reclaim the portion of her soul she sold to him. She soon learns that the last remaining person who knew Griselbrand's whereabouts is dead. This would be a dead-end for most people, but Liliana happens to be a necromancer...
- A high-level Wayward creed power in Hunter The Reckoning allows them to do this by looking into the eyes of the deceased, although if the deceased in question happened to be misinformed about something, they'll pass that misinformation on, thinking it to be the truth. The Wayward isn't automatically aware of whether the deceased is right or wrong, so double-checking may be required.
- There's a scene in Zork Nemesis where you have to cut the head off a corpse, then mount it on a machine so you can ask it questions.
- In Arcanum, you can summon spirits of dead people. Some will have side-quest-relevant info, but most will only complain about the pain (which, as you discover later, is main-plot-relevant!).
- The Nameless One from Planescape: Torment can do this once he learns the Stories-Bones-Tell ability.
- The party ends up assisting a Necromancer in interrogating a dead goblin early in Icewind Dale II, garbling information about an incoming attack. Unfortunately, you're always just too slow to do any good with the information.
- Done with magic crystals in Pathways into Darkness.
- The Constantine videogame has a mission in which John uses necromancy to learn about the final moments of a murdered angel.
- Trouble In Terrorist Town has gathering information from corpses as a major part of its gameplay and the main way to find out who's the traitor. They provide the living innocents who died, what weapon was used to kill them, how long since they died, the last person they saw, what their last words were, and anybody they killed.
- A subplot in Diablo III involves you contacting a the spirit of a long-dead mage for information. But he refuses to answer your questions unless you help bring him back to life.
- This is fairly routine in Fallen London, since Death Is Cheap for the entire city barring a few causes of death. You just wait for the victim to come back to life.
- In Shadowrun Returns, interrogating the spirits of murder victims is a routine procedure for the police. Although the dead do have hazy memories, they often offer unique insight that living investigators usually miss.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
- The arrest of Yanni Yogi is based on testimony from a spirit medium channeling the murder victim.
- And in the third game, you get to cross-examine a ghost using the same method.
- Atsuki Saijo of Lux-Pain can read thoughts, and though quite risky, this includes the last thoughts of a deceased person.
- Kore the dwarven paladin use Speak with Dead in Goblins on the dead goblin fortuneteller Young-and-Beautiful.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Parodied when Xykon needs the help of a dead goblin to find his keys.
- Played straighter later, when Durkon casts Speak with Dead on a deceased Draketooth clan member. The end result is still humor at the Order's expense, since a dead brain takes the questions very literally.
- It also shows up in Casey and Andy while they are visiting a fairly D&D-ish world, but the target turns out to have a special "Zealot" prestige-class that enable him to resist the post-mortem interrogation.
Zealot: Bite... my... ass...
- Attempted in 1921, during the tail end of the Spiritualist movement. Detroit Spiritualists Thomas Bradford and Ruth Doran wanted to test whether or not an afterlife truly existed, so they came up with what they believed to be the only way to conclusively prove the existence (or lack thereof) of an afterlife: Bradford would commit suicide, and afterward his spirit would relay details about the afterlife to Doran. He went through with the suicide, but Doran would later report that she never received any messages from him.
- Metaphorically, in pathology departments.
Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae. ("This place is where death rejoices in teaching the living.")