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Amateur Sleuth

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"It's elementary, my dear Goofy. From this piece of evidence, I can safely deduce that... I'm really bad at this cleaning job."
Shawn: I gave you the guy!
Detective Lassiter: He had a partner.
Shawn: I have to find that guy now? I'm confused; when do you start chipping in?

A character with no formal connection to law enforcement who regularly solves crimes and mysteries, but does not get paid for it. They may informally help the police to solve puzzling cases.

Often a Mystery Magnet. If so, despite the amazing number and variety of murders that occur wherever he or she happens to be, the Amateur Sleuth is rarely — if ever — suspected of any complicity. This notwithstanding, the possibility that the Amateur Sleuth is in fact a very clever Serial Killer is a common joking assertion among some viewers. As one stand-up comedian once said of Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote, "Wherever dat little white woman goes, somebody dies!" Another stand-up comedian remarked that "giving this woman a plane ticket is like giving Manson parole."

The other variety of amateur sleuth acts just like a professional, apart from the minor details of not having police powers, and not being paid to solve crimes. Intrepid Reporters generally fall into this category. This might include a sleuth that would plausibly work with police on a regular basis because of the nature of their job. A typical example of this might be a district attorney or an insurance agent.

One common variety is a retired detective, such as Hercule Poirot or Nick Charles. Some Hardboiled Detectives will be amateur sleuths, though this is rare. Compare Private Detective.

In literature, amateur sleuths are very frequently Every Man (or more often Every Woman) characters who are nevertheless regarded as very intelligent and charismatic. They are not heroic in the I Was Born Ready sense but are still courageous and prefer brains to brawn (which they are unsuited for anyway). Often it occurs without the character actually stepping forward and assertively taking charge, but only because others simply defer to her because of her natural intelligence and intuition.

The amateur sleuth genre is especially known for having a built-in readership. One of the things often said about such readers is that they consider themselves more intelligent than the general public at large, and are typically not two-fisted alpha types such as those who commonly become heroes in fiction. There is the expectation from the readers that the protagonist be the type of character that they can see themselves as. Also, a good number of self published and small press mystery authors give their protagonists the same daytime profession as themselves.

Very susceptible to a Busman's Holiday. If female, they also frequently are in a Sleuth Dates Cop situation.

Super-Trope to Little Old Lady Investigates, Kid Detective, Mystery Writer Detective.

Amateur sleuths are the protagonists of nearly every story in the "Cozy Mystery" genre.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Shinichi Kudo from Case Closed, before he is turned into a schoolboy Kid Detective through a fictional drug.
    • The series actually has several of those, starting with Shinichi's father Yusaku who used to be sleuth and then became a mystery novelist. The one we see the most is Shinichi/Conan's friend Heiji Hattori, the son of a high-ranked policeman who often helps his dad as well as Conan himself. And in fact, there's a short arc named Detectives Koshien which gathers Conan, Heiji, and other three school-aged sleuths (Saguru Hakuba, Junya Tokitsu, and Natsuki Koshimizu) for a TV competition between them. Which actually was a trap, since one of the detectives had greatly wronged another... and ended up dead for his trouble.
    • And the aforementioned Saguru Hakuba is the Amateur Sleuth in another series by Gosho Aoyama, Magic Kaito. Saguru Hakuba is a famous high school detective based out of Japan and one of Kaito's rivals.
  • Yagami Light in Death Note used to be an amateur sleuth, but now he is now a very clever serial killer.
  • Kyuu Renjou and his friends in Detective School Q attend an academy for those. Class Q is for the Qualified students (i.e. the specially chosen few) who are viewed as the most potential candidates for the successor of school founder Morihiko Dan in the future.
  • Jotaro Kujo, of Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders. The guy, as far as we know, has never taken a single class on the subject, but repeatedly outwits opponents and discerns the nature of the situation through intuition. Well, that and watching lots of Columbo when he was younger.
  • The Kindaichi Case Files has Hajime Kindaichi. While he's an Ordinary High-School Student (and a Salaryman later on), he's capable of Spotting the Thread due to his genius deduction skills and manages to solve cases that baffle many a professional crime investigator and/or cop. He also counts as a Kid Detective when he's an Ordinary High-School Student.
  • The titular Psychic Detective Yakumo, a college student who can see dead people. He uses the ability with the belief that if he can communicate with them and resolve any issue they may have, then the ghost or spirit can move on to the afterlife, which gets him involved in supernatural mysteries.

    Audio Plays 
  • Jago and Litefoot from "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" in their Big Finish Doctor Who spin-off series. Although, since they live in the Whoniverse, their investigations generally turn up more weirdness than they expected. Lampshaded in Worlds of Doctor Who, when their friend Ellie tells Sergeant Quick that she and Litefoot are keeping tabs on a suspect, and he replies "Oh, are you? Anything you want to share with those whose job it is to keep tabs on suspects?"

    Comic Books 
  • The Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny, also emphasizes detection in most of his stories (his name being a play on The Thin Man), separating him from the wackiness of Plastic Man (who he started as an Captain Ersatz of) and the grim, Goddamn-Batmanitude of Batman.
  • In The Maze Agency, Jennifer Mays is a professional Private Eye. However, her boyfriend Gabe Webb is a true crime writer. Gabe has turned down multiple offers to join her agency because he does not want to mix a personal and a professional relationship with. However, Gabe often tags along to assist of Jen's cases, and while Jen is great at doing the legwork, Gabe is a deductive genius and it is invariably his insights that solve the case.
  • Mickey Mouse in Mickey Mouse Comic Universe. Building on traditions from the newspaper strip by Floyd Gottfredson, and the later Mickey/Goofy adventure comics by Paul Murry, he is depicted him as one in comics and in some stories even being presented as a licensed private eye. Various comics over the years have taken a great deal of different approaches to this, ranging from the usual comical approach to making him a hard-boiled Noir detective. The comics also vary in how much of a Great Detective he is, sometimes showing that the police is hopeless without him, and othertimes showing that the police are good at their jobs and find it annoying that an amateur keeps nosing into their work.
  • Harry Vanderspeigle, the protagonist of Resident Alien, solves mysteries with his great observational and interpersonal skills, but has no formal training or license as a detective.
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre features wealthy socialite Wesley Dodds, the Golden Age Sandman, investigating dark mysteries as his costumed alter ego.
  • The gang on Scooby-Doo were amateur sleuths, even in the comics. But sometime during the Gold Key run (around issue #14), they lost their amateur status when they became ghost busters for hire.
  • Aside from John Hartigan, every hero in Sin City fits this description since they are not normally professional detectives. Dwight used to be a PI, however.
  • Rorschach from Watchmen. Other superheroes were deputized by the US government eventually but once they were outlawed, they were retired.
    • He's also a subversion, in that he's thoroughly dismissed as a paranoid lunatic. In fact, Ozymandias plays on this paranoia to mislead the other heroes until it's too late.
  • Really, every superhero who isn't officially authorized by the police or government.
    • Capes especially oscillate on this status. Superman is often stated to be specifically deputized by the Metropolis Police Department and the Justice League, and The Avengers have at times had official status with the United States or the United Nations, or both, but are often independent.
    • Likewise, Batman has been deputized by the Gotham police department. Depending on the version, either it's official or unofficial. In either case, he has received first-rate detective training, making him a professional in all but title.

    Fan Works 
  • The fanfic Despair's Last Resort has main character Takara Tsukuda, who was accepted to Hope's Peak Academy with the title of Super High School Level Journalist. Her classmates ask her for advice before the first investigation, justifying that since she's the only one of them who has any amount of experience close enough to detective work. This works out in her favor, as being a journalist required her to do research and investigating of her own.
  • Fatal Frame VI: Vengeance: The entire reason Sumiko comes to the Watanabe Shrine is to solve the mystery of the Disappearance of the Watanabe Three in 1984.
  • In the fanfic Graduate Meeting of Mutual Killing, main character Akane Ogata has absolutely no experience in detective work, to the point she needs to be taught some of the most basic stuff. However, she's the main investigative force in the story, and her investigations and deductions greatly contribute to the development of the trials. This may be justified, as the franchise it's based off does include amateur sleuths as the protagonists.
  • Discussed in Story of Three Boys. Kurt and Puck (with the help of Finn) go to great lengths to keep their relationship a secret, since Puck isn't out. However, Rachel starts to suspect that something is up with them, and they pretty soon realize that they have to tell her what's going on so that they can ask her to keep quiet about it, before she decides to discuss her suspicions with other people. At this point, Puck starts affectionately calling her Super-Sleuth.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Loving Vincent, Armand Roulin takes on this role. He's not a detective, but he tries to uncover the truth behind Vincent's death.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Brendan Frye, the teenaged protagonist of Brick is a high school student who suddenly finds himself drawn into a mystery and acting like a hardboiled PI in a Film Noir.
  • In The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, Paula (Jean Arthur) is a mystery writer who does this. Her husband, an M.D. (William Powell) divorced her because she was constantly dragging him into risking life and limb in her real-life cases.
    Paula: Hold him, Brad, I'll clunk him! *WHAM!* Ooohhh....
  • The Gourmet Detective series involves food critic Henry Ross, who becomes involved with the San Francisco Police Department when a journalist dies at a restaurant owned by a friend of his and he is brought in as an expert. Subsequent films in the series show Henry assisting the detectives with various cases where his expertise is useful, ranging from a murdered chef at a restaurant to the theft of a rare chef's book belonging to a famous but now-closed restaurant. However, the films would also acknowledge the "amateur" part with Henry's observational skills not making up for his lack of knowledge of investigating procedure, such as nearly jeopardising a sting operation because he drew attention to flaws in in a fake item he was purchasing rather than realise the target could be arrested and officially questioned if he just went along with the sale.
  • The Leopard Man: Jerry becomes suspicious that the recent deaths blamed on an escaped leopard he was renting are being committed by a human and gradually begins exploring angles.
    Jerry: I'm not much of a detective, I don't even know how to start. All I know is I wanna do something about all of this.
  • Melsa Manton from the film, The Mad Miss Manton. A fun loving socialite, Melsa and her debutante friends hunt for a murderer while eating bonbons, flirting with Ames, and otherwise behaving like silly young women.
  • Johnny Goodlittle in horror comedy The Monster has taken a correspondence course on how to be a detective. The local cops ignore him when he finds a clue concerning the mysterious disappearance of a local businessman, so Johnny investigates for himself and winds up in an Old, Dark House, trapped by a Mad Scientist.
  • The North Avenue Irregulars is about five churchwomen revruited to help Treasury agents to bust up a gambling racket.
  • In The Phantom of Crestwood, Dan Curtis is a criminal hired to retrieve some incriminating letters Jenny has in her possession. However, when Jenny turns up in dead in his arms, he decides he had better solve the case before the police arrive and pin the crime on him.
  • In A Simple Favor, Stephanie quickly manages to develop a tendency for this; while initially just a vlogger who discussed recipes and crafts, she proves herself to be very astute when she starts digging into Emily's past after the other woman's disappearance. She is even derisively called "Nancy Drew". After Emily is brought to justice, along with the massive success of her vlog, Stephaine becomes a part time crime solver, having resolved some 30 mysteries in the six months after Emily's arrest.
  • Sister Mary Bonaventure, a nun in charge of a hospital, in Thunder on the Hill. When she meets the sister of a murdered pianist, she has a gut feeling that the sister is innocent and sets out to prove her innocence.

  • Margery Allingham's Albert Campion, a mysterious aristocrat driven by his love of adventure. Specialist in fairy stories.
  • Amelia Peabody and her husband Radcliffe Emerson are both amateur sleuths who are both Victorian Egyptologists, so that they qualify for Adventurer Archaeologist, not to mention Battle Couple.
  • Lori Shepherd in the Aunt Dimity series, and in some respects, Dimity herself. Lori has some knowledge of old books and manuscripts (which does come in handy from time to time), but she inherited a fortune from Dimity and so favors and help each other with their cases.
  • Ben Snow is a cowboy drifter in the Twilight of the Old West who discovers and solves mysteries, despite sometimes being accused of being Billy the Kid.
  • Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr'' is a professional burglar who has a habit of running across murders during his "jobs" - and usually ends up the prime suspect, forcing him to solve the cases in order to exonerate himself.
  • The Boxcar Children, although being a series aimed at young children, the "crimes" they solve are rarely very serious.
  • Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael, a monk and herbalist. Abbots call upon him as a medical examiner, detective, doctor, and diplomat. Of course, in the 12th century, there weren't any professional detectives, so anyone qualified to do the job would be an amateur.
  • Charles Paris, a perennially semi-employed British actor, in a series of books by Simon Brett. He's usually a suspect at some point.
  • Deconstructed in The Dead Zone in the case of Johnny Smith, who acquires precognitive visions and witnesses an apocalyptic future caused by aspiring politician Greg Stilson. Johnny appreciates that his visions aren't a valid source of evidence for anyone else that Stillson will be dangerous in the future, but Johnny himself doesn't have the investigative experience or detective skills needed to conduct a more conventional investigation into Stilson's activities in the hope of finding something that people will believe.
  • Anna from Death From A Shell accidentally stumbles into the mystery, and solves it with the help of Dr. Clover.
  • John Dickson Carr's portly master detective Dr. Gideon Fell, and (under the pseudonym Carter Dickson) Sir Henry Merrivale, the masters of the locked room murder.
  • Encyclopedia Brown, a schoolboy who runs his own agency solving schoolyard mysteries, and sometimes assists his father who is the local police chief.
  • Ellery Queen, created by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee under the pseudonym "Ellery Queen," is a mystery writer who assists his police chief father on tough cases.
    • The duo also created Shakespearean actor Drury Lane, who took up detecting as a hobby after retiring from the stage.
  • Family Skeleton Mysteries: College professor Georgia Thackery and her ambulatory skeleton friend Sid find themselves in this role in the first book, and keep it up.
  • The priest Father Brown, in the Father Brown stories of G.K. Chesterton. He says that the understanding of human nature gained by a priest is all of the training one needs to be a detective.
  • The Felse Investigates, Ellis Peters' other main detective series, feature police detective George Felse, but many of the novels include his son Dominic helping out in an amateur capacity after independently stumbling over a part of the mystery, and there are three novels in the series (The Piper on the Mountain, Mourning Raga, and Death to the Landlords!) in which Dominic solves a mystery on his own while traveling in foreign parts. There's also one novel in the series, The Grass Widow's Tale, which is a solo outing for George's wife Bunty, who unravels a criminal conspiracy after accidentally discovering a corpse in a car boot.
  • Irwin Maurice "Fletch" Fletcher, from Gregory McDonald's series of Fletch novels. As far as is known, he was only ever suspected in Confess, Fletch, and even then not seriously; for five of the books he's an Intrepid Reporter but about halfway through the series goes into semiretirement and is just the guy who happens to be there.
  • Groucho Marx, Master Detective, by Ron Goulart. Needing a project to occupy him between movie stints, Groucho Marx agrees to act in a radio serial. But when a beautiful starlet is found dead before production even begins, Groucho is determined to find out who killed her.
  • Half Moon Investigations, written by Eoin Colfer, involves Fletcher Moon who is a 12-year-old detective. Somewhat of a subversion in that Fletcher is a certified Private Eye, but he is certified in the US and lives in Ireland. (He took an online course.)
  • The Hardy Boys, schoolboys. (Subverted in the 3rd season of the 1970s TV series in which the Boys so impressed a Justice Department official that they are recruited as professional agents for the organization).
    • In two recent Spin-Off series they're not so amateur anymore. In the Hardy Boys Casefiles, they're recruited into an Interpol-like organization called the Network by an agent known only as the Gray Man who realized they're out for vengeance after Joe's girlfriend Iola is killed by a car bomb. In The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers, they're recruited into another organization called ATAC (American Teens Against Crime,) with the in-series justification that teenagers can go places and ask questions that would otherwise made adults looks suspicious.
  • Agatha Christie's Ariadne Oliver is a bit of a parody of this trope: she's a mystery writer who occasionally ends up helping Hercule Poirot on real murders. She frankly admits that her writing experience gives her very little practical investigating skills and always guesses the wrong person (or, alternatively, guesses every possible suspect in turn before declaring that she always suspected the real killer).
  • The main character of Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar books is an Oxford professor, who is assisted in solving crimes by a quartet of barristers.
  • Simon Rattray (a pseudonym for Elleston Trevor) wrote a series of mysteries with chess-themed titles about Hugo Bishop. The back covers of the 1980s editions all carried the words, "He's not a cop, nor a private eye. He just shows up to help." He's noted as writing books collectively titled Personality Under Stress, which suggests some sort of psychologist, but he's accustomed to things like finding a bomb in his airplane. He's on a First-Name Basis with a Scotland Yard inspector (they're old school chums), and a number of other policemen recognize him with a respectful, "Oh, it's you, Mr. Bishop," and take his orders without much question.
  • Jack Reacher, the character Lee Child's Reacher novels are based around. A freelancing drifter who solves murders, and various other mysteries, living off a payout received at the end of his military days, and money obtained from bad guys or in gratitude for solving cases.
  • John Putnam Thatcher, written by Emma Lathen (pseudonym for the writing partnership of Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart), is a Wall Street banker. Supposedly the two chose a banker as their detective because "there is nothing on God's earth a banker can't get into". (Though, if they'd been writing after the banking crisis/recession instead of before...)
  • Lord Peter Wimsey, an independently wealthy aristocrat whose hobby is detection; except for once moonlighting as an advertising copywriter, he has never held a job — he's too rich to actually need one.
  • Miss Marple usually just happens to be somewhere around where murders happen. Then she solves them by Obfuscating Stupidity and asking the right questions from the right people.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers also wrote a number of short stories featuring a traveling salesman with the unlikely name of Montague Egg; when he's not acting in his capacity as a broker for a London firm of wine merchants, he finds himself occasionally stumbling across crime scenes and offering his common-sense expertise.
  • In Moonlight Becomes You, Maggie is a photographer by trade but turns detective to find out who murdered her stepmother and why.
  • Mr.note  and Mrs.note  North are, respectively, a publisher/editor and his homemaker wife in a mystery series created by Frances and Richard Lockridge in 1940. While he's the breadwinner, in line with the social mores of the time, she actually seems sharper the deductive reasoner.
  • Brother William of Baskerville from The Name of the Rose. Brother William is a Franciscan friar who arrives at a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy to attend a theological disputation. This abbey is being used as neutral ground in a dispute between Pope John XXII and the Franciscans, who are suspected of heresy. When a series of mysterious deaths occur in the abbey, Brother William is forced to turn detective.
  • Nancy Drew, a schoolgirl. Her father is attorney Carson Drew. As a teenager, she spends her time solving mysteries, some of which she stumbles upon and some of which begin as cases of her father's.
  • For a professional thief, Nick Velvet solves an awful lot of crimes, often because he needs to prove he wasn't responsible.
  • Rabbi David Small, created by Harry Kemelman, has an inquisitive nature that makes him both a great scholar of Judaism and a gifted amateur detective, although it doesn't always make him popular with his congregation.
  • Sujata Massey's Rei Shimura is a Japanese-American antique dealer/amateur sleuth. In later books of the series, however, she becomes an official agent for a CIA-wannabe.
  • Nicholas Bracewell, "bookholder" (stage manager) for an Elizabethan theater company, in a series by Edward Marston.
  • Flavia Gemina and her friends in the The Roman Mysteries are Kid Detectives and amateur sleuths in The Roman Empire.
  • Sammy Keyes, teen girl detective in Santa Martina, California.
  • Although the Trope Codifier Sherlock Holmes has no formal connection to law enforcement and is occasionally referred to as an "amateur" in the stories, he doesn't quite fit this trope since crime-solving is still his primary line of work. And he gets paid for it. He is professionally termed as a "Consulting Detective" and charges fees for his services. He would appear to be what we'd commonly call now a private investigator. Holmes describes himself as an "amateur of crime", using the term in the then-current usage to mean an enthusiast or "lover" of crime, from the latin "amo". He does refer to "remitting his fees entirely" at his discretion, and does so on at least one occasion; there are also occasions where he does not actually solve the crime — the murder of Charles Augustus Milverton, for example, where he colludes in covering the matter up — or there IS no crime, such as "The Man with the Twisted Lip".
    • In fact, as Holmes uses the term “Consulting Detective,” he’s not just a professional but a specialist, serving as a detective that other detectives call upon.
  • Simon Ark claims to be a Coptic priest. Of course, he also claims to be 2000 years old, and searching for works of the devil. What he finds is usually more mundane.
  • The basis of the plot of These Savage Bones. Alejandro has been bounty hunting for years now, but Esperanza has never solved a murder case before, nor has she ever done any sort of police work.
  • Father Saenz and Father Lucero of Smaller & Smaller Circles are consulted by the government in murder cases due to their academic experience in forensics and the government's sore lack of in-house manpower, and despite being Jesuit priests.
  • Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph.D., LL.D., F.R.S., M.D., M.D.S., etc., a.k.a. The Thinking Machine, is a university professor who solves 'impossible' crimes that are brought to him by his journalist friend Hutchinson Hatch.
  • In Three Act Murder, the murder investigation was initiated by Sir Charles Cartwright, a retired actor, Miss Hermione "Egg" Lytton Gore, his much younger Love Interest, and Mr. Satterwhite, an art critic of sorts. They were eventually joined by Hercule Poirot.
  • The Three Investigators: In a similar spirit to The Hardy Boys, the title characters are a group of school kids who solve mysteries they encountered. While they would all help each other and work together, Jupiter was responsible for solving most of the cases.
  • TKKG from the series of the same name. A group of kids doing investigations.
  • The final solution to the crime in Towards Zero was exposed by Andrew MacWhirter, a random passer-by who unwittingly got involved in the investigation through a chance encounter with one of the suspects, whom he believes to be innocent.
  • Trixie, Honey and their friends in the Trixie Belden series. Trixie Belden lives on Crabapple Farm just outside Sleepyside, New York. With her best friend Honey Wheeler, they hope to one day start the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency - but in the meantime, they get lots of practice solving all the exciting mysteries that take place around Sleepyside.
  • Firestar from Warrior Cats went out of his way to solve several crimes in The Original Series, such as Redtail's death and some kit-killings in ShadowClan. Minor character Shrewtooth later tries his paws at it by solving the mystery of Leafstar's lost kits in the SkyClan and the Stranger manga minutes before Leafstar herself worked it out.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Adventures of Shirley Holmes: The great-great-niece of Sherlock Holmes, Shirley is the daughter of British diplomat Robert Holmes and virologist Dr. Joanna Holmes. She carries on her famous ancestor's legacy of solving crimes through deductive reasoning while attending the prestigious Sussex Academy.
  • In Agatha Raisin, Agatha is PR expert who spends more time solving murders than she does doing public relations. At the end of the third series, Agatha decides to stop fighting it and acquires a private investigator's licence.
  • Alta Mar: Nicolás and Eva whenever a mystery unfolds on the ship. While Nicolás does at least have some legal authority as the ship's first officer, Eva is a simple passenger and shouldn’t be involved in any investigations at all. However nothing, not even Nicolás getting transferred to another ship and an actual intelligence officer telling her to mind her own business can stop her.
  • Bored to Death's Jonathan becomes one of these out of boredom and loneliness. He proceeds to get involved in increasingly dangerous cases he takes as an unlicensed PI on Craigslist.
  • The title character of Castle is a world-famous mystery writer, who initially only joins the NYPD's homicide detectives to do research for his new novel series, and only gets allowed because he's a friend of the mayor. In reality, he only initially is motivated by research, and is really there for the thrill of solving crimes and - eventually - because he's fallen in love with Detective Kate Beckett. Despite lacking any formal training, he brings a unique perspective to their cases, and a number of connections in everything from government agencies to the criminal underworld from previous "research projects" that give him advantages the police lack.
  • In the Community episode "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" Annie becomes one, drawing a very reluctant Jeff into her investigation of Professor Professorson.
  • Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel: The docu-series delves into the death of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, which became an obsession for many web sleuths who spread conspiracy theories based on their own fantasies and little evidence.
  • Dexter: The protagonist's adopted father and sister are both official law enforcement officers, but he works only as a technical consultant. It's interesting that in this series, the amateur sleuth actually is a clever serial killer, although his skill at hiding his murders means that he is rarely called to investigate his own crimes. Except, of course, in the second series, when a scuba diver stumbles onto Dexter's underwater burial ground, and the central plot is about the hunt for the "Bay Harbor Butcher" (Dexter) and Dexter's attempts to sabotage the investigation and not get caught.
  • Diagnosis: Murder: Dr Mark Sloan, a surgeon, blended mystery fiction with Medical Drama. Mark is the son of a cop and father of another, in whose cases he often gets involved. He is a medical consultant to the LAPD.
  • Ellery Queen. Ellery is a Mystery Writer Detective who frequently assists his father who is a police inspector.
  • Father Brown: A slightly crumpled, shambolic and mild-mannered Roman Catholic priest, Father Brown's greatest strength, both as a priest and as a detective of crime, is his love and understanding of other people. He's not there to judge, but to save souls.
  • Father Dowling Mysteries: Father Dowling is a priest whose clerical duties somehow always lead to crime-solving as well.
  • The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries:
    • No matter where Frank and Joe Hardy go, they end up involved in a mystery…though the show sometimes subverts it by having the cops or others get real suspicious about the Hardys' involvement, up to and including tossing them in jail.
    • Nancy Drew's amateur status is questionable, as she often implies that she's working for her father as part of his attorney's office. However, she does take on a number of mysteries outside of her father's caseload and without his help.
  • Hart to Hart: Jonathan Hart is a self-made multi-millionaire and CEO of a large corporation. Jennifer Hart is a freelance reporter, although that rarely comes up. Mainly they're jet-setters who encounter a murder, kidnapping, or other nefariousness wherever they go.
  • Hightown: Jackie, an agent of the US Marine Fisheries Service, gets determined to solve a murder after she stumbles over a young woman's body on the beach. She's got no training in this but does a good job even so, and later becomes a professional cop.
  • The Hour gives us Freddie Lyon, a journalist who happens to get tangled up in plots and conspiracies, and he is far too stubborn to stop until he knows the truth and broadcasts it to the world. In Season Two, Bel starts acting this way, too.
  • Jonathan Creek, a magician's assistant who solves impossible crimes, including the occasional Locked Room Mystery. Producers have described the show as focusing on the question of how a crime was committed rather than who did it; on a few cases it turned out to be the obvious suspect from the beginning, with Jonathan's role being to determine how (for example) a woman could have stolen a valuable statue belonging to her estranged brother when her only opportunity to steal it was when she was in an isolated room with no other exit or suitable hiding place.
  • Lie to Me: Cal Lightman and his staff are psychologists specializing in discerning whether or not someone's telling the truth. The police and FBI frequently find this useful. They are also frequently hired for non-criminal cases, such as a divorcing wealthy husband asking him to find out if his wife was ever unfaithful, thus invalidating the prenup (Cal ends up figuring out that she wasn't, causing the angry husband and his lawyer to storm out threatening a lawsuit).
  • The Magician: Tony Blake is a world famous Stage Magician who dabbles in investigation because he cannot stand to see injustice.
  • Subverted by Patrick Jane on The Mentalist. He checks all the boxes on the Amateur Sleuth checklist - former conman using his skills at getting inside the minds of criminals and suspects to crack cases that leave trained detectives stumped - except that he's actually on the police payroll as a consultant.
  • Midnight Caller: Jack Killian is a talk radio host who gets involved in his callers' problems, which often include crimes that he must solve. Somewhat justified in that he is also a former cop.
  • Midsomer Murders:
    • Evelyn Pope in "Destroying Angel", to Great Detective levels. Not only does she orchestrate the deaths and exposure of Gregory Chambers and Karl Wainwright's murderers, but this comes after she meticulously deduces the truth of the crime by investigating what seem to be vague clues and minor inconsistencies in the murderers' behavior. Her investigation even happens during the plot: her confession at the end of the episode doubles as The Summation, as she explains all the moments through which she uncovered the murder plot within scenes from the beginning of the episode before Barnaby hit the scene, explaining her conclusions step by step.
    • Somewhat subverted in "Happy Families". One of the suspects played a detective in murder mystery games and tries to get solve the mystery before Barnaby. It gets him killed without solving the mystery, but he was killed because he was getting close to solve it.
  • Monk: The titular OCD and phobia-ridden detective is usually paid to investigate crimes. However, murders happen wherever he goes, and he's been solving crimes since junior high. Getting a job that paid him to do the stuff he was already doing just made sense, really.
  • Murder, She Wrote: As noted above, the redoubtable Ms. Fletcher, her neodymium-level Mystery Magnet status and the trail of corpses in her wake have spawned their own line of Black Humor.
  • The UCOS squad of New Tricks is composed of retired detectives who, although they investigate unsolved crimes, are not actually official police officers. They actually use this, though, in order to bend the rules that would otherwise constrain serving officers (much to the displeasure of their boss, who is a serving officer). They are in absolutely no sense whatsoever 'amateurs', though, as they are explicitly and unequivocally professional paid investigators — they simply do not have the powers of police officers.
  • In Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn episode "Dude, Where's My School?", the quads accidentally bust a sewage pipe that ultimately causes a sinkhole to swallow up part of their school. They then transfer to another where their friends stated they have joined the Mystery Solvers Club and they intend to investigate what happened at their former school. However, this is a subversion as the point of the group was to convince the quads into confessing.
  • In Only Murders in the Building, Charles, Oliver, and Mabel have no business investigating a murder but decide to give it a go because they're inspired by True Crime podcasts.
  • Open Heart: Dylan Blake, who's investigating her dad's disappearance after the police close his case.
  • Probe: Austin James is constantly trying to learn what he doesn't already know. This includes discovering how various people are murdered. The first episode establishes him to have a good working relationship with the police coroner, but his actual job is President of Serendip (which he hates and actively avoids so he can do scientific experiments instead). Michelle Castle is hired to be his secretary and she helps him solve each episode's mystery.
  • Psych provides us with the quote from Shawn Spencer. He does skirt the line though since he's technically not an amateur. While not formally with the police, he is often hired by them and his own father Henry Spencer was a police officer who honed his observational skills to insane levels since childhood, all with the ambition to have Shawn follow in his footsteps. However, pre-existing tensions between Shawn and his dad's Control Freak tendencies broke through after a divorce that led to Shawn getting a felony just so he could not be a cop. The series start with him calling the police to give tips, but they were so good they suspected he was an accomplice, thus playing with part of the trope. He then proceeds to come up with the idea that he got his information psychically and thus begins his life as a phony psychic detective. Shawn with the help of his best friend Gus must continue aiding the police in various investigations as a paid "psychic consultant". So while not even an official PI (psychic investigators don't have to take qualification exams), he's been trained since childhood for the job (he got a perfect score on the deductive reasoning test at fifteen), he's not really an amateur either. He does the job because he finds it fulfilling work (despite his father's pushiness, he did actually want to become a police officer from a genuine desire to help people) and he often draws in the clientele that would prefer those outside the law or have been (or feared they would be) turned away by the police, motivated by desperation or later on, by his reputation.
  • Ned in Pushing Daisies is the assistant to a private detective, but his proper job and true passion is baking pies.
  • Reacher: A former military police investigator ends up solving mysteries and unraveling conspiracies whereever he goes.
  • Riverdale: Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones volunteer as teen reporters for the Riverdale High School paper, the Blue and Gold, and, Riverdale being the place it is, end up investigating brutal murders, drug dealers and criminal conspiracies.
  • Rosemary & Thyme: Laura Thyme and Rosemary Boxer are two women brought together by a sudden death who discover their shared love of the soil. Being gardeners means that they overhear secrets and dig up clues which lead them to handle floral problems, solve crimes and capture criminals.
  • Seonam Girls High School Investigators: This Kdrama is about a group of teenage girls who solve crimes. Same goes for the series of novels that inspired the show.
  • Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell parodies this in a commercial in which Father Brown, Grantchester vicar Sidney Chambers, Miss Marple, Jonathan Creek and Hetty Wainthropp all show up at the same crime scene wanting to ask a few questions. Reality ensues when the DCI tells them all to fuck off and get back behind the police tape. Cue the title, Actual Detective. And then Scooby-Doo appears and is likewise told to get lost.
  • Strange Luck: Chance Harper often winds up in a position to solve crimes, albeit more because of his role as an all-around Weirdness Magnet than a Mystery Magnet. Subverted in that he is just as likely to be in a position to get blamed for a crime he'd have gladly played no part in solving. A freelance photographer by trade, he figured out he may as well sell photos of the bizarre shit that's always happening to him.
  • The Winchesters on Supernatural. Their only connection to the law consists of constantly being on the run from it, though occasionally they stumble onto a sympathetic detective who at least doesn't turn them in right away. As a result, they are forced to investigate the supernatural threats they are hunting using fake IDs identifying them as everything from priests to agents of Homeland Security, but have reached a point where they can pass as detectives even when not deliberately trying so long as nobody has reason to suspect they're fakes.
  • Veronica Mars: The titular character starts out as a semi-amateur sleuth, in that she helps out her father with his case load as a PI while at the same time carrying on her own investigation into her best friend's death (effectively pro bono, as the case is considered solved by the law). Towards the end of the first season, she becomes an unlicensed PI to many of her fellow high school students, digging up information in exchange for cash. In the third season, legally an adult, she passes her test to become a licensed PI. The proposed fourth season which never got off the ground would have ended the amateur part completely, jumping ahead a couple of years for her to become an FBI agent. The movie has her abandon this life and leave Neptune to go to a law school. At the start of the film, she's at an interview to a big New York law firm. Then she's dragged back to Neptune and ends up as this trope again.
  • On Yellowjackets, Misty Quigley fancies herself as this, and is part of an online "citizen detective" community. However, when she tails Natalie to her meeting with Kevyn Tan, Natalie tells her to go away, saying that they're not "Rizzoli & Isles."


  • The Paul Temple detective series, broadcast on BBC radio between 1938 and 1968, features a Gentleman Detective who solves crimes too baffling even for Scotland Yard, assisted by his wife "Steve" and his manservant. Being a man of independent means, he doesn't even claim expenses and solves crimes as a hobby. Thought to be too anachronistic and old-fashioned when it ended in 1968, it has been periodically revived in updated one-off specials and short runs between 2006 - 2013.
  • Lamont Cranston's public identity as an "amateur criminologist" in The Shadow provides cover as to why he is always near crime scenes.

    Video Games 
  • The four kids in The ClueFinders Edutainment Game series in a couple of the games.
  • The Sole Survivor of Fallout 4 also has to do some sleuthing to find their kidnapped baby boy. Played straight for a male survivor who was previously a soldier, but possibly subverted for a female survivor, who may have been a criminal lawyer. Other cases they get drawn to investigate are
    • The disappearance of a bartender in Diamond City.
    • Kidnapping of a caravanner in the closed-off town of Covenant.
    • Investigating a young woman’s disappearance, as the main quest of the Far Harbor DLC.
    • Investigating a cyborg’s murder in Vault 118.
    • Investigating the theft of food in a Brotherhood of Steel base.
    • If a certain faction was ignored, the investigation of synth escapes in the Institute.
  • The Courier in Fallout: New Vegas has to do some sleuthing during the main plot and a few side quests. In the main plot s/he must find out who attempted to murder him/her and stole the package s/he was delivering, and then gather evidence to implicate the attempted murderer. The Courier also participates in the following investigations
    • Solving a companion’s wife’s kidnapping in Novac.
    • Solving the disappearance of an NCR corporal, which uncovers a water pilfering scheme.
    • Counterintelligence investigation to catch a Legion spy in the main NCR base.
    • An investigation into the massacre of Cass’s caravan and a few other caravan raids.
    • An investigation of a crooked supply clerk in the NCR.
    • Investigating drug theft from an infirmary in an NCR base.
    • Investigating the disappearance of a cattle baron’s son inside an upscale casino.
    • Investigating another casino’s plot to launch a terrorist attack.
  • Humongous Entertainment gives us Freddi Fish and her friend Luther. A 4-year-old yellow fish with orange fins and blue eyes. She volunteers to investigate any mystery or crime that has recently affected her friends. She often counters the crooks she catches with morals of wrongdoings, and has a desire to be a police officer when she reaches adulthood.
  • In Horizon Zero Dawn Aloy takes on this role quite frequently with extremely high stakes, as she lives in a world without formal detectives of any sort. She gets by with her natural intellect and tracking skills, as well as her Foucs.
  • Robert Cath, protagonist and player character of the adventure game The Last Express, boards a train to find his friend murdered, and proceeds to investigate both the murder and various pieces of international intrigue aboard.
  • In Love & Pies, Amelia isn't a professional detective because she only learned the skills from watching The Mysteries of Miguel, but she conducts investigations in the café to catch the criminals who are out for it and her family.
  • Nancy Drew from the eponymous game series is a teenager detective.
  • Pennington of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door certainly acts the part, but he may be one of the worst amateur sleuths on the face of the planet. He spends the entire sixth chapter of the game trying to solve one mystery after another with Mario's "help", and gets every single possible thing wrong, even when the answer is right in front of his face. He even mis-guesses the identity of his "deputy" (admittedly, he wasn't too far off on that last one. He guesses Luigi).
  • The main cast of Persona 4, except for Naoto, who is a Kid Detective.
  • Herschel Layton from the Professor Layton games is a professor of archaeology, but he tends to get roped into solving mysteries wherever he goes, thanks to his puzzle-solving skills.
  • The Web Game Sleuth features you playing as a Private Detective solving murder cases. (And yes, it's Always Murder). When you first create a detective, you can either build a new character from the ground up, including choosing the individual skills needed to find clues and interact with witnesses, or choose a preset background for the character with a bundle of skills relevant to their background. These preset backgrounds do include backgrounds that are directly relevant to working as a private detective (being a former police detective), and others that are semi-related (a retired lawyer or freelance reporter), others are definitely not linked to being a detective and thus lean more into the amateur sleuth archetype, such as a disgraced doctor or an eccentric rich kid getting their kicks by being a detective.
  • Despite their lack of detective training (one's a Idol Singer, another's a Getaway Driver, yet another's a Badass Preacher, etc.), the protagonists of World of Horror are able to investigate what the police can't handle and find out the machination of the Old Gods, the supernatural and their cult lackeys.
  • The Photography club from Yandere Simulator becomes a group of this if the school atmosphere drops low enough. Fitting for a large-scale Shout-Out to Scooby-Doo.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Ace Attorney series runs on this; both Phoenix and Apollo tend to do most of the detective work for their clients despite being defense attorneys with no police training. The games don't seem to be sure if this is legal or not within the game world.
    • And in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth Prosecutor Edgeworth does no prosecuting but a lot of detective work. In fact, the Judge lampshades this at the end of the game.
      Judge: A prosecutor joined forces with a thief and became a detective. Maybe I should join forces with a bailiff and become a lawyer!
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Makoto Naegi, as the main character in a mystery game, tends to be the one pulling the students through the trials, with some help from his Aloof Ally Kyoko Kirigiri (who is later revealed to be an actual Great Detective) whenever he gets stuck.
    • Zig-Zagged throughout the series, Hajime Hinata from the sequel, Danganronpa 2, has no formal training, and none of the main cast do either. In the third game, Danganronpa V3, protagonist Kaede is merely a pianist, but the real protagonist Shuichi is a more-or-less legitimate detective.
  • In Spirit Hunter: Death Mark and its sequel Spirit Hunter: NG, the protagonists and their group of everyday companions are charged with investigating local murders that are tied to spirits. None of them have the suitable training, except for Mashita (an ex-detective) and Ooe (a Cowboy Cop).
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, Furudo Erika is one, even getting a power called the "Detective Authority". In the first four games, Battler (or rather his "piece" in the game) has the role of the detective but isn't aware of it.
  • The main character in the murder mystery visual novel Jisei, who is accused of committing murder, helps question possible suspects in the vicinity of the crime so that he may clear his name and assist the detective on the scene in finding the real killer.
  • Two instances in Choices: Stories You Play:
    • The main character in Veil of Secrets is forced to become one once he discovers that in this town, the Police Are Useless. (Except for one Token Good Teammate cop who, unlike her boss, is willing to help out.)
    • The main character in The Unexpected Heiress becomes one after she finds a cryptic distress letter from her sister, which leads her to discover that her sister was murdered.

  • Asia Ellis in morphE. She was kidnapped and dragged into the supernatural world while working on a private investigation.
  • Yohan Lee from My Deepest Secret. He's an aspiring detective who works with his detective uncle often. He's also gained some fame around the school for solving some small mysteries, like finding a thief who had stolen a club's money. And of course, he's on Elios' trail.
  • ''Simtopi: Wren and Raven Marlen like snooping around Simtopi so they can solve "mysteries" and explore the paranormal activity that so often takes place in their town. Jasmine even gives them an assignment—to stalk Clara St. Julien, her father's girlfriend. Still, for always being so nosy, they don't really seem to know a lot about everything's that's happening.
  • Unordinary: Remi's quite perceptive for her age. She's been keeping up with things on EMBER to find out more about them since the organization killed her brother for becoming a superhero vigilante. She also begins to put together that there might be a connection between EMBER and the authorities since they desire to keep to the current society's status quo where the strong bully the weak.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In one of the 1950's Felix the Cat cartoons, "Detective Thinking Hat", Felix becomes a junior G-Man and ends up tracking down and bringing in Rock Bottom.
  • Scooby-Doo was this in largest part, most notably in the early seasons. A newspaper article at the end of "A Clue For Scooby-Doo" even calls them amateur sleuths. By extension, all of the recycled clones thereof also qualify.

    Real Life 
  • Peter R. De Vries (not to be confused with the similarly named character from Dune), crime reporter. Cracked more cases than Case Closed (and he's a cartoon character). Though in real life this means tracking down petty swindlers in most cases. But his big cases include tracking down the big bad of the beer-brewing billionaire kidnappers, getting two innocent people accused of murder out of jail and catching the real killer, foiled a prince and princess any rights to the throne as the princess had a prior relationship with the biggest drug lord in Dutch history and tricked a sociopath, whom he also caught trafficking Thai prostitutes a few months earlier, into confessing to a hidden camera to the murder of a missing girl in Aruba.


Video Example(s):



Her expert tracking skills, Focus, and natural intellect all combine to make Aloy an accomplished detective in a world that likely doesn't have much in the way of police investigation.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / AmateurSleuth

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