troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Whodunnit to Me
Frank Bigelow: I'd like to report a murder.
Captain: Sit down. Where was this murder committed?
Frank Bigelow: San Francisco, last night.
Captain: Who was murdered?
Frank Bigelow: I was.
D.O.A.

The protagonist has been murdered and is either dead or soon will be. The rest of the story concerns their efforts to solve the crime in the time they have left. A subplot can also be their trying to protect a loved one from the killer who did them in. This can be supernatural or non-supernatural depending on whether the protagonist is already dead or dying slowly but inevitably. If he or she is already dead, may involve Near Death Clairvoyance, otherwise may be considered a form of Death by Origin Story.

A common science-fictional version involves characters who have the ability to back themselves up, through Brain Uploading or some similar technology. This is often used as a way to get around the issue that most victims know who murdered them: the version of the character that's trying to solve the murder is only as up-to-date as their most recent backup, which means they naturally have no memory of the murder or anything immediately before it.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Already Dead 

Anime
  • Lia in Le Chevalier D Eon, who possesses her living younger brother to find out who murdered her.

Comic Books
  • The Shade, the Changing Man story arc 'The Road' becomes an inverse murder mystery.
  • This was the whole idea behind the DC Comics character Deadman, who died in his first story - and became a superhero as a result, fighting crime in spirit-form while investigating his own death. At one point, it looked like his killer was Joe Chill, the same thug who had murdered Batman's parents.
  • This was part of the title character's original motivation in Ghost from Dark Horse Comics.
  • Emily from Anya's Ghost wants to find the man that killed her family. Subverted later, where it's revealed there was no murderer. Aside from Emily, of course.

Film
  • The Crow
  • Roger Mortis's (Treat Williams) goal in Dead Heat. Note that he's a cop who was investigating the bad guys before he's killed; becoming a zombie just lets him see the case through till the end.
  • Ghost
  • The '50s movie, You Never Can Tell tells the story of a murdered dog who was sent back by 'dog heaven' as a human to investigate his own murder.
  • The movie Oh Heavenly Dog reverses this, sending back a murdered human in dog form to investigate his death.
  • In RoboCop, both versions, Alex Murphy tracks down the criminals who all but killed him.

Literature
  • Remember Me, a novel by Christopher Pike. Shari begins the novel already dead. She was killed at a party, and being a ghost she must figure out which one of her friends killed her.
  • The novel Never Trust A Dead Man pairs this with Clear My Name and Enemy Mine: the protagonist, Selwyn, is forced to cooperate with his murdered rival (who has been brought back from the dead in the form of a bat) to find the real murderer and clear Selwyn's name.
  • 9Tail Fox by Jon Courtenay Grimwood involves a police officer who was shot from behind and resurrected in another man's body by the Celestial Fox.
  • Ghost Story, Book 13 of The Dresden Files, has this as its plot, with a ghostly Harry trying to find out who killed him, and the more important question of who ordered it done. As it turns out, the answer is...himself. Also, he's still alive.
  • James Herbert's Nobody True is told from the POV of a ghost seeking his killer ... who can astrally project to oppose him.
  • The zombie-PI protagonist of Kevin J. Anderson's Death Warmed Over investigates his own murder along with several others. He mentions that a number of ghosts or other zombies have hired him to solve their murders.
  • The Vampire Files starts with protagonist Jack Flemming waking up just after his death, and he spends the first novel Bloodlist figuring out who killed him and why.

Live-Action TV
  • One episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has the corpses of murder victims talking about their murders (as the CSIs solve the cases).
    • When Jimmy investigates a death at his high school reunion, the victim's corpse nags him about his methods in the autopsy room.
  • The first episode of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) - original and remake.
  • Torchwood: "Random Shoes". Eugene's ghost follows the Torchwood crew around as they investigate his death. He manages to appear briefly to his family before Ascending to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • An episode of Blood Ties has Vicki's old friend from the police department ask her to solve his murder... before walking through a closed door. It turns out she's the only one who can see him due to her experience in the pilot. Even Henry can't see him. When they try to find out who killed an undercover officer, they see his body walk around like nothing happened. Their resident occult expert finds out that he his body has been taken over by a creature that quickly burns out its hosts before moving on to a new host. They manage to expel and destroy the creature, but the body has been already too burned out, and the guy dies a few minutes later.

Radio
  • Edith, in Season 6 of Old Harry's Game agrees to write Satan's biography in exchange for Satan investigating her murder.

Tabletop Games
  • Ratik Ubel, an NPC revenant from Ravenloft, has been acting out this trope for years. Normally a D&D revenant exists just long enough to eliminate its killer, but Ubel never saw his murderer's face and has been relentlessly pursuing one lead after another, seeking whichever of his (many) old enemies was responsible.

Video Games
  • Shadow Of Destiny, although he's trying to reverse his death as well.
  • The Flash adventure game The Dead Case
  • The World Ends with You Most of the plot of Joshua's week was about Neku trying to figure this out. By the end of game it becomes clear that this was becuase Joshua himself was the murderer.
  • Sissel's motivation as the eponymous ghost in Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is not only to find his killer, but to find out who he is in the first place.
  • The eponymous character of the PC game Ghost In The Sheet starts the game by getting run over by a bus. He's not quite satisfied with the "it was an accident" theory, but he has to put it on the back burner in favor of the job his new boss has given him. At the end it's revealed that his boss arranged for it to happen for reasons that aren't clear (at least, not clear as to why GITS specifically) but appear to revolve around a need for a lackey of some kind.
  • Sonny, from the flash game series of the same name, died prior to the first game's start. He cannot remember what happened to him or anything about his life prior death, and wonders who resurrected him and why.
  • Why Am I Dead? features the ability to possess people in order to investigate the main character's death.

Web Comics
  • Slightly Damned begins with Rhea already in purgatory, ready to be judged, with no idea how she got there. She got better, and there's only so many places that her killer can be...
  • {...} in Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name has been dead for a while now, and recently been shown that he was murdered. He doesn't actively pursue his killer (he doesn't like to dwell on the past), but the point stands that {...} died, he came back and his killer is still presumably at large. He may not care whodunnit, but the readers and other cast members seem to.
  • Rachel-Rebecca the Third from DMFA was a law school student who got murdered. After getting reanimated, she got her own murderer convicted and went on to establish legal rights for The Undead.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal once pointed out one of problems with vengeful ghosts.
  • In No Songs For The Dead, the main protagonist Hector wakes up to find himself undead and unable to remember anything about what happened to him or his identity. The story revolves more around Hector trying to figure out his past and why he is now back, than his death.
  • One of the character's in the cyclist webcomic Yehuda Moon And The Kickstand Cyclery is the dead previous owner of the cyclist shop, killed by car driver shortly before the start of the series, he seems to have a somewhat physical manifestation and seems to be unable to move to the next world unless his dead is resolved.

    Not Dead Yet 

Film
  • Crank: Chelios doesn't need to figure out who poisoned him, as the culprit leaves him a gloating video that admits and even shows the act. Rather, he needs to track him down for revenge.
  • D.O.A., both the 1950 original and the 1988 "remake".
  • Played with in Dead Man. The protagonist William Blake receives a gunshot wound to the chest that is slowly killing him, although he doesn't realize it.
    Nobody: Did you kill the man who killed you?
    Blake: I'm not dead.
    Nobody: <Snorts in disgust.>

Literature
  • A story in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine involving a man who is shot, and has a near death experience. While still in the hospital, he tries to figure out who did it, and does. There's one more dangerous surgery to be done to get the bullet out, and the story ends with him saying "I'm ready."
  • In G. K. Chesterton's short story "The Resurrection of Father Brown", the titular priestly detective is supposedly murdered and is just about to be buried before he wakes up in his coffin. It turns out he was fed a poison which caused him to go into a coma almost resembling death. The remainder of the short story concerns Father Brown's efforts to discover who did this to him.
  • According to More Information Than You Require, ninth US president William Henry Harrison was given a slow-acting poison at his inauguration that would kill him in thirty days, and told he would be given the antidote if he could figure out who poisoned him. As the book puts it, "Harrison was a great Indian-killer, but not much of a sleuth".

Live-Action TV
  • NCIS:
    • "Dead Man Walking". Genre Savvy Tony makes a comparison by name to DOA.
    • Also when Tony gets pneumonic plague.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street, episode "Subway".
  • Starsky & Hutch, episode "A Coffin for Starsky".
  • An early CSI: Miami was about a woman who was poisoned with radioactive materials by a Corrupt Corporate Executive (or rather a low level employee who she seduced to get information) because she happened to be the lawyer working the joint lawsuit against their illegal dumping practices.
  • Used in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, when an attorney who'd been working with Sarah informs her that she won't be able to finish the case because the bullet lodged in her cranium from a previous crime has shifted inside the skull and will soon kill her. Subverted when, against all expectation, she survives the surgery to remove the bullet, which subsequently proves that she'd been shot while in the process of murdering her husband.
  • The Alexander Litvinenko case was apparently Ripped from the Headlines in Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Litvenenko is actually mentioned by name.
    • A similar, earlier case in which a fight between two Northern European naval personnel ended with one pinning the other with a piece of equipment that discharged a radioactive field, and firing. It was reported that prosecutors were faced with the difficulty of how to press charges, because a fatal dose was delivered, but murder charges could not be pressed because it would take years for the victim to die.
  • The Monk series finale: Monk is poisoned. They find the culprit fairly quickly, but need the poison. Monk still has a chance to live.
  • In the Person of Interest episode "In Extremis", Dr Nelson has been poisoned with polonium that will kill him within a day.
  • Doctor Who had this as a significant plot point throughout Series 6, with the Doctor being "killed" in Utah in the first episode and having to find out who and why he was murdered, and the threads of it carry over into Series 7, as The Doctor now knows WHO did it, but is still trying to figure out the specifics of WHY. It is unclear whether the end of season 7 provided a satisfactory answer.
  • In the Star Cops episode "Conversations with the Dead", a space freighter is knocked off course, with no way of reaching safety or being reached by rescuers before its oxygen supplies give out. The crew of the freighter interact with the cops investigating the incident by radio.
  • The short-lived Timecop series had "D.O.A.", where Jack and his boss Matuzek are suddenly killed at night by a car bomb in their headquarters' parking lot. Hemmings uses the time travel equipment to go back to that morning and warn Jack of his impending demise. Jack spends the rest of the episode rushing to put the pieces together, while Matuzek (though trying to help) treats it as his last day alive and takes care of family business. They actually fail to solve the case and appear ready to follow through with history, but their investigation changed things enough to prevent the explosive from being planted. Jack later figures out the culprit was someone he met that day and saves Matuzek from being gunned down in an alley.
    • Jack also thought he was the target due to Timecop-related business, but it turned out to be Matuzek due to "ordinary cop" business (even though the culprit knew about time travel).
  • Castle: In the two-part seaon 6 opener, Rick is exposed to a nerve gas and given 24 hours to live. He and Beckett use the time to attempt to locate the perpertrators and recover the gas and (hopefully) the antidote.

Video Game
  • The Flash game Sixty Seconds To Live. The title is fairly self-explanatory here.
  • In Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate, the fortune teller Madame Fate wants to find out which of her workers is plotting her death at the stroke of midnight. The answer? It's none of them as they are all found to be dead/doomed by midnight. The answer is the ghost of Charles Dalimar, the Big Bad of the series, who only gets involved because Madame Fate went to the Master Detective for help.

    Restored From Backup 

Literature
  • Who Censored Roger Rabbit?. Unlike Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Roger is dead, and his doppelganger (a temporary copy of himself) goes to Eddie to find out who iced the original.
  • Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni has the detective challenged by a witch to solve his own deaths (plural.) If he can't find a rational explanation for his impossible murder, the witch will eat him alive.
    • Drawn to an epic Mind Screw at the end of Umineko Ep4 with this gem:
      Beatrice: "Battler Ushiromiya, at this time, I will kill you. And right now, there is no one on the island other than you. The only one alive on this island is you. Nothing outside the island can interfere in any way. And of course, I am not you. However, I am here now and will kill you."
      Battler: "[...]So?"
      Beatrice: ".........Who...aaam I...?"
    • Especially since it is said in red (which means it must be true) and that he (and the reader) is supposed to figure who that person is.
  • The whole point of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is Rika finding out who kills her every June, and consequently destroys the town.
  • To Live Again, novel by Robert Silverberg
  • Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan is a Film Noir style thriller, with an investigator hired by the restored backup of an apparent suicide. The victim does not believe that he could have possibly wanted to kill himself; indeed it would be futile given that he was backed up and brought back to life in under 48 hours and instead believes he was murdered and demands justice.
  • A story by Jack Vance has the main character kill someone who has discovered his real identity. The backup of the person spends the rest of the book screwing him over while trying to prove that he killed them the first time.
  • Count Sessine from Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks.
  • The cybrid Johnny from the Hyperion Cantos. He is essentially a cloned human body through which an AI interacts with the real world. Killing the body didn't destroy the AI, but before the backup could be brought online, someone deleted several days' worth of its memories.
  • The John Varley short story, "The Phantom of Kansas", opens with the protagonist awakening and discovering that this is the third time she's been restored from backup. The original, and the two previous backups, have all been killed.
  • Voice of the Whirlwind by Walter Jon Williams.

Live-Action TV
  • In the Dollhouse episode "Haunted", Echo gets the personality of a recently dead woman who wants to solve her own murder.
  • Pushing Daisies, in the pilot.

Tabletop Games
  • The Transhuman Space scenario "In The Walls", in the Cities on the Edge supplement, is about a "ghost" (uploaded intelligence) who was murdered but restored from backup. He's annoyed about that, but livid that the backup has been tampered with, meaning he has no memories of the past six months.

Unfinished BusinessAfterlife TropesWinged Soul Flies Off at Death
Who Will Take The Kids?PlotsWhole Plot Reference
DarkseedPoint-and-Click GameDéjà Vu
Wax Museum MorgueMurder TropesYou Got Murder
White Shirt of DeathDeath TropesWhy Couldn't You Save Them?

alternative title(s): Whodunit To Me
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
38904
0