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Clueless Mystery

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"My detective doesn't show all the clues to the reader! He's always detecting stuff that the reader doesn't know and can't know, and at the end when he figures out the mystery, he arrests the murderer for reasons that we aren't privy to and that no careful reading of the text will ever reveal."
T-Rex, Dinosaur Comics

The Whodunnit is a funny genre. Sometimes the author "plays fair" with the readers, giving them all of the clues necessary to solve the mystery at the same time as, or even before, the fictional detective.

Others don't. This type isn't intended to be participatory at all, the reader is expected to simply come along for the ride, and no effort is made to provide the clues needed to solve the mystery. This latter form is the "Clueless Mystery", and is, in fact, the older form. (The "rules" of Fair Play Mysteries were only codified in 1928.) Due to its Older Than They Think status, the Clueless Mystery can catch many modern fans off-guard, leaving them feeling cheated in a game that the author wasn't really taking part in.

One common indicator that you may be looking at a Clueless Mystery is the use of the First-Person Peripheral Narrator. By having the story told by someone other than the detective, the author has an easy way of explaining the missing clues: the detective knew about them and their significance, but the narrator didn't.

It's still going to fall into one of the categories of the detective story — a Whodunnit, Whydunnit, Howdunnit or Reverse Howdunnit. The difference is that the audience has no real chance to solve the mystery at all.

For example, Mr. Rich Guy has been killed. Characters A, B and C are established to have motives. Evidence points to characters A, C and also D, who doesn't have a motive but was suspiciously close by at the time of the murder. The real criminal however, is Character Z, who shows up in the last ten minutes as the waiter serving the frustrated police officer his coffee. He hasn't appeared before (or he did, but just for 30 seconds), and he was never considered in the investigation, but the protagonist reveals him as the culprit as the audience wonders what the hell just happened.

Despite normally being an author's "trademark" style, Clueless Mysteries often appear in the repertoire of usually-Fair-Play Whodunnit writers, particularly when they get fed up with fans who start complaining that the puzzles are "too easy", or when a television mystery gets accused of being formulaic. In these instances, all the usual ingredients for the standard Fair-Play Whodunnit are there. Bizarre murder methods. A nice little inheritance. A family who haven't given birth to a sane individual since the fifteenth century, and lots of clues. But the audience that settles in for its usual clue-hunt is only going to have the rug pulled out from under them in the closing minutes or the last few pages. The clues that they can normally count on mean absolutely nothing. They're all red herrings, and the audience seldom gets any warning that the normal rules are off on holiday. As a one-off, often has the audience applauding and declaring "Well played, sir/ma'am!" Use it too often, however, and it's a different story.

The Clueless Mystery is very much a controversial thing. Some people hate them, and will swear off of (or at) any author who serves one up. Other people are quite content with them, as long as they know beforehand that it's not a Fair Play Whodunnit. Done badly, without warning, or under the guise of a Fair Play mystery, it can seem lazy at best, and insulting at worst, as if the writer is mocking the audience in an "I'm more clever than you!" kind of way. Done well, it can lend a human side to seemingly-infallible detectives, and reflect the real world, where there isn't necessarily an elaborate rhyme and reason to every crime.

The opposite of a Fair-Play Whodunnit, and related to The Dog Was the Mastermind. Has nothing to do with a certain Alicia Silverstone movie. See also Smoking Gun Control, where everything that would normally provide a clue inconveniently doesn't. Contrast Reverse Whodunnit, in which the audience sees the crime as it is committed, complete with identifiable culprit.

When adding examples, please be cautious about adding Fair Play Mysteries that are simply devilishly clever or obscure. If the clues were there, it doesn't matter if they were easy to miss or misinterpret; it's not a Clueless Mystery.

Examples below may contain SPOILERS.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Case Closed tries to play fair much of the time, but does cheat on occasion. One murder, for example, is solved because the victim left a clue that referred to his killer's maiden name. No, we don't get to know what that name is until The Reveal. Non-Japanese-speaking readers may also be left unable to put together some of the clues that rely on Japanese wordplay.
    • This is an anime-only problem. The manga always plays fair although the cases can be... difficult to solve, to say the least. From time to time, the anime also overlooks or messes up important clues that make cases (or arcs!) much harder or even impossible to solve, like the extremely subtle uneven borders of Jodie's pictures of pictures that revealed she wasn't the villainous Master of Disguise.
  • Both Doubt and Judge by Yoshiyuki Tonogai are big examples of this trope. With Doubt, the explanation relies on one character having a previously unhinted at psychic power that enabled her to control the Love Interest, and who, for most of the story, the reader believes to be dead. Judge is even worse in this regard, as The Reveal is that Hiro, the main character is the culprit. Only one very subtle moment hints that this is the case, while most of the story contradicts this, since the story is told from his perspective, and his thoughts and actions throughout the story contradict his true nature.

    Comic Books 
  • Heroes in Crisis is a mystery story where the initial clues outright invalidate the eventual reveal of the culprit and what he did. What the killer is shown doing does not match up with the way the killings were portrayed in the early parts of the story... or previous stories for that matter.
  • The "mystery" of the Red Hulk's true identity largely consisted of an endless series of red herrings and fake-outs without giving any actual clues to what it was. And when his identity was finally revealed, it ended up being somebody— Thunderbolt Ross—who had been explicitly ruled out as suspect earlier in the storyline and even had a few scenes with the Red Hulk ( Life Model Decoys were used to explain that away).
  • In Spider-Man comics, the Crime-Master turns out (after several issues of suspense) to be someone Peter's never heard of before.
    • According to some this was to be Green Goblin's secret identity as well, if Ditko had his way. Instead of someone he knew/knew by proxy, it was to be an absolute stranger.
      • This is an urban legend, from Steve Ditko "Now digest this: I knew from Day One, from the first GG story, who the GG would be. I absolutely knew because I planted him in J. Jonah Jameson’s businessman's club...I planted them together in other stories where the GG would not appear in costume...I planted the GG’s son (same distinctive hair style) in the college issues for more dramatic involvement and storyline consequences. So how could there be any doubt, dispute, about who the GG had to turn out to be when unmasked?"
    • Also true for the criminal leader The Big Man, who was actually the nondescript newspaper reporter Frederick Foswell.
    • When he first unmasked Electro, he joked that he didn't know who he was but that if it were a mystery novel, he'd shout "The butler did it!". Note: Electro's identity was not set up as a mystery and his real name, origin, and face were revealed to the audience early in the same story.
    • Also Venom. The mystery of who the symbiote had bonded with after it left Peter was built up for issues and then it turns out to be Eddie Brock, a character that Peter's apparently heard of but readers had never seen before!
    • When he took over writing duties on Spider-Man, Tom DeFalco wanted to change the then-unrevealed identity of the Hobgoblin in a bid to avert this. Previous writer Roger Stern had intended to reveal Roderick Kingsley as the Hobgoblin, but DeFalco felt that Kingsley didn't really fit the clues presented in the story and also thought that Stern's attempts to throw readers off the trail were kind of cheap. Real life behind-the-scenes issues would prevent DeFalco from doing so though and in the end, Kingsley would be revealed to have been the original Hobgoblin many years later.
  • One of Linkara's main problems with DC's Identity Crisis is that the story follows this trope, but has to contrive unrealistic situations to explain why. Sue Dibny is murdered and the story spends six issues pointing out how many different people could have the motive, and how many different people could have the means, before each suspect is dismissed. Then at the end of the penultimate issue someone finds a real clue which definitively narrows it down to two suspects, neither of whom had any evidence suggesting them beforehand, and the murderer reveals themselves at the beginning of the final issue.
  • Ultimate Marvel: The "Ultimate Doom" trilogy starts off as one of these. Multiple characters and places throughout the Ultimate universe are attacked by mysterious aliens or giant tentacle things. Someone is behind it, but absolutely no hints, clues or Foreshadowing is offered, before it turns out to be Reed Richards, who's gone insane and evil, despite his apparently being one of the first victims of the attacks.

    Comic Strips 
  • The first "Minit Mystery" (one- or two-week stories with a guest writer or artist) in Dick Tracy presented itself as a Fairplay Whodunnit, with narration boxes each day saying things like "Can you solve the case?" and "Last chance to solve the case before Tracy!" However, it wound up being a Clueless Mystery, as the solution was based on which of the suspects had left their coat in the victim's office. When Tracy announced the solution, he explained that one of the suspects "didn't wear" a coat, even though that suspect (unlike the others) had said nothing about wearing or not wearing a coat. Later Minit Mysteries played this trope straight without purporting to be solvable by readers.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Girls und Panzer: Hope Dies, Miho's murder is impossible to solve conventionally. The fic strongly implies that Erika is the culprit, but Erika turns out to be innocent. Not only are there no clues to hint at the identity of Miho's murderer, but the real culprit feigns shock at Miho's death and lies in order to conceal her motive, with her true motive only revealed after the culprit willingly comes forward.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Murder by Death ends with a parody of this, with each of the detectives delivering an increasingly convoluted solution, in the process revealing dozens of heretofore unknown facts about each other, all of which are apparently true and render most of the story incomprehensible and/or outright false. And then Lionel Twain, the victim, shows up and reveals that he did it, delivering a Take That! speech against this trope:
    "You've tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You've withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I've outsmarted you, they'll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents."
  • The Turkish Gambit, an adaptation of the eponymous Erast Fandorin book, changed the identity of the Turkish spy in the Russian camp. In the book, he was one of those the clues pointed to, while in the movie, all the clues were red herrings, and the real spy was somebody else entirely, whom Fandorin accused based on evidence never shown onscreen before (though its existence had been hinted at early on).
  • Harry Potter: While the books are Fair Play Whodunnits, the films sometimes omit the clues.
    • The second movie contains absolutely no evidence pointing to Ginny. In fact, she gets so little screen time that by the climax you probably won't even remember who she is.
    • The Reveal in the third film borders on nonsensical if you haven't already read the book.
    • At one point, the fake Moody does Crouch Jr's trademark facial tick (quickly licking his lips) - a trait that was not present in the novel - in front of Crouch Sr, to his horror.
  • The Bone Collector — all that fuss, all that detective work, and the killer turns out to be ...Some guy introduced in the beginning of the movie; a newspaper headline glimpsed for about 2.2 seconds during the opening credits turns out to cover the killer's backstory. In the book, however, the killer had appeared before. Hell, he even had a Meaningful Name.
  • Played with in Sherlock Holmes (2009) with Robert Downey Jr.. The Reveal at the end showing Lord Blackwood's whole "magic" premise as a facade involves several clues and details that were scarcely hinted at or never even mentioned. That said, all the crucial details do appear on screen; it's just that Holmes' investigation keeps the clues within the details unknown until The Reveal (one, which involves an explosion with a pink-ish tint to it, could be assumed to be a Special Effect Failure). This is faithful to how Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the original stories, which were not Fair Play Whodunnits.
  • Clue is this by necessity: three different endings were filmed, requiring all the clues to be vague enough that they could all fit.
  • 12 Angry Men features an interesting twist on it: the details all appear on screen, but in the end, we never learn the truth about the murder that led to the trial in the first place, as the ending is ambiguous as to whether or not the defendant was truly guilty.note 
  • Any time that Jason is not the killer in a Friday the 13th movie, the audience is not given any sort of clue as to who the killer is. In the first movie, the killer isn't one of the many red herrings, is never mentioned, and isn't seen until the reveal. The killer is the mother of a child who drowned at camp. The drowning is mentioned along with some other incidents, but she, herself, is never mentioned. When her hands are seen wielding a knife, they are actually the hands of one of the male crew members working on the film, so that even gender cannot be determined.

  • 4:50 from Paddington: The whole story is about a woman who was murdered, and the suspicion that she married a deceased son of the super-rich Crackenthorpe family, and that one of the Crackenthorpes killed her in order to prevent her and her Someone to Remember Him By son from claiming the estate. The ending reveals that the real killer is the affable village doctor, who hoped to marry a Crackenthorpe daughter, and that the dead lady was actually his wife who refused to give him a divorce. Nothing at all in the story hints at this before it's revealed.
  • Nearly all of Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries are this. You'll know all the characters beforehand, but motivations, connections between characters, bits of evidence, and even whole sections of actions by the main character will be hidden from the reader until the final reveal.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin stories are all Clueless Mysteries. In The Murders in the Rue Morgue, for example, Dupin discovers plenty of important clues at the crime scene, but none of them is revealed until The Summation. However, it's in principle possible to guess the killer's identity (an escaped ape) early on from the witness testimony (hearing a "shrill voice" that speaks in no identifiable language, and the extreme strength needed to mangle the victims' corpses.)
  • Each book of The Circle Opens has a crime central to the plot, requiring the four mages of the original books to play detective. The first two books are Reverse Whodunnits, where the reader knows from the start who's responsible. The third is a fair play whodunnit until it outright reveals its criminal early in the story (turning the rest of the tale into another Reverse Whodunnit). The fourth, however, uses the clueless mystery format, where the culprit is someone who had never been introduced to the reader, who the characters had no previous interaction with and who had no other importance to the plot. More observant readers might have worked out which group the killer belonged to, but the fact that neither reader nor heroes could identify an individual was part of the book's social commentary. Even after the murderer is revealed, we are told very little about them.
  • Dashiell Hammett's The Continental Op: Done fairly well in The Big Knockover. A mob of over a hundred crooks lays siege to a bank, stealing a fortune and killing several people. The mastermind of the job then sets to killing every one of the crooks instead of paying them. At the climax, the surviving criminals and the detective, pretending to be one of them, hole up in a house to make a stand against the cops. The suspects are: a sympathetic thief, a magnificent bitch, her meek lackey, a dumb bruiser, and his naive girlfriend. So who's The Chessmaster? The meek lackey, introduced just a few pages ago, with an assist from his girlfriend the magnificent bitch. Upon finding this out, even the detective can barely believe it.
  • In Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game, the actual murderer is not a suspect and is only mentioned once in passing — if you're reading too fast you'll miss it. However, the overall book isn't actually a mystery and the characters aren't trying to solve it. For one thing, they're young children just trying to go about their fun and games.
  • In its early installments, the Ellery Queen series built a reputation for the Fair-Play Whodunnit, but Dannay and Lee didn't always adhere to this formula in later years. Notably The Scarlet Letters isn't a whodunnit at all since Ellery sees the murder committed right in front of him. It's not fair play either since Ellery only shares his evidence with the reader at the same time he's disclosing it to a judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney in the final chapter.
  • One Encyclopedia Brown vs Bugs Meany caper was titled "The Case of the Missing Clues". This one is something of a subversion, though. The client in the mystery is a boy who has been selling fresh fruit from a stand on the side of the road; Bugs comes by every day and demands a generous helping of fruit for free, claiming that he is offering "protection" for the boy. On the day that Encyclopedia takes the case, Bugs makes off with a bag of cherries. When Encyclopedia and his client enter Bugs's clubhouse, they find him with an empty bag, but Bugs claims that he bought the cherries elsewhere, and has been eating them since he got back to his hideout. Encyclopedia investigates, and immediately determines that Bugs is lying. The mystery is how he knew, and the solution reveals that if Bugs had been eating the cherries in the clubhouse, there would be stems and pits lying on the floor, and as there aren't any, he must have made up the story and eaten the fruit on his way there. So yes, the mystery is literally clueless—but in this case, the absence of clues is the clue!
  • In A Game of Thrones, there is a bit of an inversion. The readers have been given enough of the clues to figure out that Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen are products of incest, but the main "detective" Ned Stark isn't given enough information in the story to justify his conclusion of Jaime being the father. His investigation only concludes that Robert (or any Baratheon) can't be the children's father and therefore Cersei has had at least one affair; he only learns the truth when he interrogates the queen and Cersei's comments about Jamie leads him to ask her outright and she immediately gives him a Blunt "Yes".
  • Hush, Hush:
    • In the first book, the villain makes so few appearances that it's difficult to remember he even exists. There's nothing at all to indicate that he's the French nobleman that Patch enslaved in the prologue and the only one with any indication at all of being the villain is actually The Dragon.
    • In Crescendo, the same holds true for Rixon. His motives for trying to kill Nora are something he never showed the slightest bit of interest in before and his plan to kill her (torment her for an undecided period of time with visions of her dead father) was so roundabout and so needlessly complicated that it's virtually impossible to figure out who was the one trying to kill Nora, what his plan was, and why he was doing it.
  • The Lord Peter Wimsey novel Five Red Herrings is an edge case, with some people holding it's a Fair Play Mystery (although a devilishly challenging one) and others holding that it's this. The detailed inventory of the victim's painting kit is the sticking point — the reader is never explicitly told what Wimsey noticed about it that gave him the information he needed to identify the murderer, but the list of what is there is missing an item that should be there. The dispute hinges on whether it's fair to expect the reader to know what items an oil painter absolutely would have in his kit when he's going out to paint a landscape, or not. (On the Fair Play side, we're told the relevant deduction well before the conclusion: That the scene was set up by the killer, something is missing, and that the missing item is only really important in that it indicates the scene was set. Also, it doesn't require a very esoteric knowledge of oil painting; anyone even minimally aware of the mechanics should spot what is missing. For those who aren't, there's a scene later on where another painter being watched by a group of children supplies the missing information as he answers their questions. It's an absolute requirement for doing oil painting of almost any sort.)If you MUST know... 
  • In Gaston Leroux's The Mystery of the Yellow Room, the identity of the aggressor is only revealed with clues that the protagonist gathered off-page.
    • Including the significance of the mysterious passphrase / Arc Words, that the protagonist knew before the novel even starts.
    • However, the solution to the main mystery, which is how the murderer got out of a locked room surrounded by witnesses without being caught, can be deduced from the information, even though it comes off as a surprise. The victim was actually having a nightmare at the supposed time of the murder. The real murder attempt happened earlier and caused the nightmare.
  • The Nero Wolfe mysteries are often called Clueless Mysteries since, like the Holmes stories, the reader only knows what Archie knows, but in fact, Rex Stout was scrupulous about letting his readers know if Archie (and therefore they) didn't have enough information to come up with the solution himself before the grand reveal. Considering how often Nero deliberately kept Archie in the dark about one or more facets of the investigation, it's not surprising that some of the stories are effectively unsolvable for the reader.
  • Owen Johnson's One Hundred in the Dark was a subversion considering it had a resolution where the victim came up with a solution which got her stolen property back. However, the result was she would never know who stole it in the first place.
  • Margaret Maron's Sand Sharks has this issue, though most of her books do not. In that book, however, the waiter did it. No, really.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories predate the Fair Play convention, so most, if not all, of the stories are Clueless Mysteries. The solution often hinges on something that Holmes observes, but which is not described to the reader in sufficient detail for them to come to the same conclusion as Holmes does. In this case, the fun of the stories don't come from solving the mystery, but seeing the logic Holmes used to solve them.
    • The portrait of Hugo Baskerville in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Since the reader can't see the portrait or the criminal, there's no way to notice the striking resemblance that puts Holmes on the right track. The reader is presented with the crime scene and some background information. Since the stories are told from Watson's point of view, the reader only knows what Watson does.
    • Right from the beginning in A Study in Scarlet, despite Holmes (correctly) describing the murderer's appearance and even how he got to the scene of the crime in detail from the clues in the room, nobody even slightly resembling the murderer turns up until the last chapter of the London-based narrative.
    • In The Adventure Of The Red Headed League, Holmes interrogates someone briefly. When Watson comments that it was a waste of time, Holmes says that on the contrary, it was quite useful, as he wasn't interested in what the man said but just wanted to look at the knees of his trousers. Watson asks point-blank what Holmes saw, and he replies "Exactly what I expected to see," making it clear that Conan-Doyle wasn't even trying to hide that he was withholding relevant information (to make matters even worse there's also a reference to an "artificial kneecap factory" elsewhere in the story, which is a bit random if it's not intended as a Red Herring to keep people from jumping to the much more sensible conclusion that Holmes was checking to see if his knees were dirty from kneeling/crawling).
    • This is lampshaded within the stories, as Holmes himself frequently criticizes Watson for embellishing his investigations into "tasteless" action-drama novels to entertain the public, instead of properly detailing the "scientific methods" that Holmes applies to solve them.
  • The Westing Game turns out to be a case of this. The apparent "clues" are hopelessly cryptic red herrings to a mystery that isn't even real, and the actual clues to the actual mystery can only be found in hindsight, appearing entirely irrelevant at the time you discover them. This is intentional — the story's more about the interaction of the characters involved than the supposed mystery.
  • In one of P. G. Wodehouse's collections of early short stories and articles, one article outlined his ultimate mystery novel. After the usual clues, suspects, and plot twists, the inspector reveals the true murderer is a man living in another county who was too smart to even appear in the book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI likes to do this rather often, mainly by the team finding a lot of evidence that could point to one person...only in the final act to find a random piece of evidence that points to the real killer.
  • Doctor Who: "The Unicorn and the Wasp" is set up like a mystery novel. However, one important clue is a piece of Imported Alien Phlebotinum whose function is not explained or even hinted at until near the end of the episode.
  • Some episodes of House, such as "Baggage", where UV lights applied to the patient in the episode's last 10 minutes for a TB screening reveal that the patient had tried to remove a tattoo to which she was allergic. The tattoo wasn't removed fully, causing a prolonged allergic reaction.
  • Hustle has these, omitting essential parts of conversations, not showing important actions, and generally fooling the viewer (it is a show about con men, after all...). For a first time viewer this can come as a bit of a surprise.
  • Law & Order does this by dropping new clues every 5 or 10 minutes that appear to invalidate the direction all the previous clues were pointing at.
  • Limitless: The audience gets to watch how Brian solves various crimes for the FBI, but since Brian is using NZT to solve the mysteries through bounds of logic and data-analyzing that no one else can do, there's rarely any way to solve the mysteries ahead of him, and various culprits and motives are rarely even mentioned before he figures out whodunit and why.
  • Midsomer Murders does this constantly, but then it stopped taking itself seriously a long time ago. Early episodes gave the viewer a fighting chance; later episodes pretty much acknowledged that the viewers' Willing Suspension of Disbelief was ironclad, started hanging lampshades everywhere, and opted to see how many bizarre murder methods they could employ instead of playing the Whodunnit? game.
  • In an early episode of Mission: Impossible the team is close to fooling an enemy agent into thinking that he's on trial in his own country. A trial that will inevitably end in execution. To add to his sense of doom Steven Hill, as the brilliant team leader and planner, is presented to him as his meek and terrifyingly incompetent court-appointed lawyer. When an accident reveals the truth to him, he laughs at them and then says "And who would be the mastermind behind this scheme?" and successfully picks Hill.
  • Monk: One first season episode played this concept rather effectively both in-universe and for the audience. Sharona's son accidentally witnesses a murder in a hotel. Monk works with the head of security to investigate, but they cannot find any clues (with the few they do find disappearing). It turns out to be the cleaning staff, who simply cleaned up the scene of the crime and removed the evidence whenever it was discovered. They would have gotten away with it if Monk didn't figure out at the last minute where they hid the body.
  • In the Poirot adaptation of Agatha Christie's short story The Third Floor Flat, in an attempt to cheer his friend up, Hastings takes Poirot to watch a play adaptation of a murder mystery, and bets him that he can't figure out the solution. Unfortunately, the attempt goes sour when the play serves up one of these, and Poirot is outraged that the vital clues weren't given to the audience. It's a clever lampshading, because the crime in the story has exactly the same flaws that Poirot criticizes in the play, including the servant who has means and opportunity being ignored, the last-minute reveal of two characters being connected rather than complete strangers...
  • Power Rangers Zeo had this with the arc introducing the Gold Ranger, whose identity is unknown to both the show's cast and the viewer. While there were a few possible candidates, most hints pointed at being the apparently retired ranger Billy, since he was never around when the Gold Ranger was, the Gold Ranger's zord combined with the other rangers' zords, the Gold Ranger saying he'd lose his powers if he told them who he was (explaining why he'd keep that a secret). But when the Gold Ranger's identity is revealed, it turns out be a completely new character that the viewers have never heard of. What's more when the other Rangers try to confront him with his "secret" he (rightfully) gets pissed off, pointing out that if he were the Gold Ranger he would tell them. There really would be no good reason to keep them in the dark.
  • Sherlock, similarly to the books it is based on, follows this trope with several of the cases, in many cases having the perpetrator remaining completely unknown to the audience until Sherlock reveals that he, thanks to information the audience isn't privy to until this moment, already knows who did it.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Elementary, Dear Data", this trope causes Data's initial attempts at a Sherlock Holmes holodeck adventure to be disappointing. At first, all the holodeck does is present Holmes' actual cases or mashups of them, and Data solves them instantly because he has them all memorized. It's only after the participants ask for an original Holmes-like mystery that Data engages in actual investigation and deduction.
  • Veronica Mars pulled this with Lily's murderer. To quote Rowdy C:
    "Yeah, all those clues you were collecting for the whole season to try to figure out who done it? They meant absolutely bubkis, because we left out the only clue that mattered until the very last act! Screw you, our loyal fanbase!"
    • Arguably the show is an inversion, because several times the audience gets clues that Veronica doesn't. (In the above storyline, for instance, the viewers get to see a few different instances of the culprit's temper/violence firsthand, whereas Veronica only hears about the events in passing, if at all.)
  • The Wire is not big on whodunnits. In fact, the detectives use the term for cases they really, really don't want to work—but there is one particular murder that plays out like this. In season four, Kima investigates the death of a witness. The case sprawls across multiple episodes; examines motives, suspects, and forensics; becomes a political hot potato; and even gets Tommy Carcetti elected as Mayor. After she's stumped, Kima goes back to look at the crime scene one last time, and she works out that the killing was an accident, and the killer didn't even realize he'd done it. Not only is the culprit unhinted at until the last few moments, the audience never even gets to see them. On the other hand, if you consider just that brief final run at the case, the show does play fair with the clues Kima spots and her line of reasoning.
  • The X-Files: Some Monster of the Week episodes are this, or rather, a curious case of this. While the viewer is usually not expected to put together the solution, the show's main draw being the paranormal aspect rather than the mysteries, a number of solutions contradict or ignore previous established evidence.

  • Zig-zagged in Williams Electronics' WHO dunnit (1995). The clues for each case are just illustrations on the playfield and don't have any specific relevance to a particular case. On the other hand, interrogating a suspect always provides a clue to the killer's identity, allowing attentive players to easily solve it.

    Video Games 
  • The Famicom Detective Club games have a knack for doing this, rather annoyingly since you'd think a game about murder mysteries would require you, the detective, to actually solve the case. Nah, you can get through the entire game by just asking every single question to every single person. It's basically just a book with a Rubik's Cube that must be solved before you flip the page.
  • World of Warcraft is sometimes guilty of this. In preparation for unveiling something unknown, like the location of the next Sealed Evil in a Can or Infinity +1 Sword, the developers scatter clues throughout the game world... and then when the time comes to actually implement the thing that the clues point to, they find out that the story they had in mind doesn't fit with the new content. The Ashbringer storyline in particular has been an offender, and to some extent Varian Wrynn and Brann Bronzebeard's disappearances.
  • Medieval Cop plays with this trope in the spin-off episode Medieval Chronicles 3. An author of a theatre murder mystery drama also plays the victim. When it turns out he has actually died onstage from poisoning, is up to defective detectives Dregg to find the real murderer. While the murder in the drama double subverts the clueless mystery, Dregg exploits this trope to solve the case.
  • The original Silent Hill is an example of the viewpoint character not being privy to what's going on as it happens. Harry is just a regular guy looking for his kid and comes to Silent Hill with no knowledge of its dark past and secrets, while the characters who do know the truth about the town either never share it with him or deliberately mislead him to further their goals. Many of the plot twists make almost no sense to a first-time player because the game follows Harry the entire time, and while he tries to piece things together on his own, neither Harry nor the player ever receive any confirmation that his conclusions are correct. It's not until Silent Hill 3 that we get a full explanation of what really happened (provided by Harry himself, who figured everything out in the interim and wrote it all down).
  • Persona 4: Dancing All Night is set up as a "whodunnit" mystery. Namely, who is the mastermind who created the Midnight Stage, and who is dragging people into it via the cursed video. This is impossible to work out as the culprit turns out to be a last minute surprise god called Mikunara-no-kami—the collective consciousness of people who long for bonds without pain—that the game doesn't even hint at until the reveal. The game attempts to levy this by doing much of the deductive reasoning via Kanami, whose shadow Mikunara-no-kami was guised as, but it doesn't really work given that the player cannot logically work out who, out of the cast, could have orchestrated the game's events.
  • While the actual puzzles of Professor Layton are usually solvable and provide you with enough clues or hints to solve it on your own, the plot of each game is typically resolved near the end of the game with a bunch of clues that Layton found while you've been exploring and has been keeping coy about. They also have a tendency to incorporate some rather outlandish technology or other explanation into the mix.
  • The 12th case of Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy, hides the most damning evidence that Ernest is actually Miles Richmond, and thus in turn Lord Adamas, namely that the book in the grandchild's room is "Ernest Shockleton, Surprise Explorer", written by "Richard Greeves", until after the big reveal a short while after Katrielle first discovers it. This is somewhat justified given how obvious it would be, ruining the dramatic reveal. Outside of this one thing though there isn't a whole lot else that actually points to Ernest. Although if a player is really on the ball, they'll realize that Ernest being the only male in the entire case who's young enough to have been a kid 10 years ago makes him the only possible Candidate, if you assume that the grandchild, and by extension Lord Adamas, is one of the already established characters. Although whether that process of elimination counts as a fair whodunnit is up for debate. The case also withholds other vital information from the player related to the truth behind the "millionaires conspiracy", like the documents Katrielle discovers, and the information she had gotten her allies at Scotland Yard to uncover for her off screen.
  • The Interactive Fiction game Detective is ostensibly a murder mystery, yet the player spends most of their time wandering around various locations vaguely related to the victim or the murderer, with the only clues never receiving any follow-up (like a note indicating that the killer was part of a vigilante group, which is never brought up again afterwards). Only near the end of the game does the narration suddenly note that the murderer is staying in a Holiday Inn and enjoyed frequenting a particular place, with no explanation as to how the player character learned any of this information. The MSTed version, Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "Detective", naturally lampshades this repeatedly:
    Mike: Okay, guys, at this point we need to start piecing together the information we've gathered. So let's make a list of what we've learned.
    Tom: Well, we've learned that the mayor has been murdered.
    Mike: Right. Anything else?
    Crow:, I think Tom pretty much covered everything.
  • Exaggerated in Heavy Rain, a game about hunting a Serial Killer where the game straight-up lies to you repeatedly. A plot point relating to Ethan, the main one of the multiple playable characters, having a psychic link to the killer was cut from the game because the writers thought it was stupid - but all the scenes where he would black out whenever the killer went killing and then wake up somewhere else with a piece of origami in his hand were inexplicably left in the game, except now they have no explanation at all. Worst of all, in a game where you play as several different characters (and have the ability to hear their Inner Monologue), you actually get to play as the killer, and the game in no way lets you know this until The Reveal - he actually acts like he's NOT the killer even inside his own head! At the start of the game, he actually interviews the mother of one of the victims and comes away from it thinking to himself "I didn't learn squat. Well, worth a try." This despite the fact that he murdered her son himself!

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc:
    • One case late in the game is not ordinarily solvable. The workings of it are revealed afterwards, but it is intentionally a Clueless Mystery to both the protagonist and the player. This is because the case was faked by the mastermind themselves; they had become desperate to get rid of the protagonists and fabricated a murder to pin it on them. The sixth case is devoted to unearthing the truth, as well as the mastermind's true identity.
    • Considering how often crucial information is only revealed during the trial by other characters (mostly Kirigiri), most of the cases can be viewed as this, depending on where exactly the reader considers "the reveal" to begin. The major exceptions to this are case 3 and 6, which are entirely solvable before the court session begins.
  • Two different ones in Daughter for Dessert:
    • The subplot about the stolen toaster. We never even find out who stole it.
    • The backstory about Lainie’s life with the protagonist and death, and the crime the protagonist committed with her help.
  • In Double Homework, it never seems like the player is meant to guess much about the secret sex experiment run by Dr. Mosely/Zeta.
  • Umineko: When They Cry uses this trope as a plot point. Even the characters can't agree on whether it's a Fair-Play Whodunnit or a Clueless Mystery. Should be mentioned the trailer did say "No Knox. No Dine. No Fair". By the end, clues are abundant - but lacking any kind of finalreveal, there's no ultimately correct way to interpret them.

    Western Animation 
  • Scooby-Doo shows tend to lampshade this a lot nowadays, as the older shows used to do this a fair bit, having the culprit be a character who never appeared but would often be some criminal wanted in twelve states that the police were looking for but the characters have never seen before.
    • Lampshaded in an episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo? that took place in Greece. At the end of the episode, Velma explains all the evidence that suggested that the archaeologist was behind the centaur attacks, and unmasks the creature to reveal... a woman that she doesn't know. (The audience does; she was the archaeologist's partner who appeared in the Cold Open, before Mystery Inc. ever showed up.) Velma immediately starts complaining that this shouldn't count against her perfect record.
      • Invoked & inverted in one episode of the series that took place in Paris. The gang has been finding clues and Freddy remarks "Clues, but no suspects". Velma gives "the fashion designer who would do anything to push his label" (Tony Stickfinger), "the jealous roommate" (Bonnie Bjork), "that gothic gargoyle groupie" (Sonny, a present day Quasimodo). Daphne adds "that slimy sliver screen star that hang glides" (Guy L'Averton). Daphne sets a trap by disguising herself as her cousin, Dannica LeBlake for the Gargoyle but screws up with Sonny — but the garygole turns out to be Dannica LeBlake herself, who wanted get out of the model business and have a normal quiet life like Daphne. This is lampshaded by Velma who remarked, "If she only knew."
    • A similar but goofier example occurred in A Pup Named Scooby-Doo where, after going through the usual theories, the monster is revealed as "Someone we've never seen before!" This time, though, they know what's going on; this man was disguised as a woman that they met earlier.
    • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated lampshades it in "Revenge of the Man Crab", where the primary villain is a character who only appears for a few seconds after the intro, and in "Aliens among US" where the villains are the three people on a Wanted poster we see for a few seconds.
    • Velma played this straight for its first season, where the serial killer behind the season-long mystery plot is revealed to be Fred's mother, Victoria Jones, with the evidence explaining why they were the culprit only being revealed after they've been unmasked.
  • Parodied on The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, where Mandy reveals that an evil circus ringmaster is really (beneath a dozen disguises) a common earthworm. When Billy voices puzzlement that Mandy figured this out, she and Grim tell him that the (nonexistent) clues were there all along: he (and the audience) is just stupid enough to have missed them.
    • Then there's the Harry Potter parody when Mandy shows up at the climax and reveals that she found a clue offscreen. And had it analysed by the FBI Crime Lab in Quantico, Virginia. The clue in question is dust. Specifically, dust from a cheap latex mask, like the one the perp wore.
  • Occurs in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic in the episode "Mmmystery on the Friendship Express", where a massive cake which is being transported to a baking competition is eaten overnight, despite Pinkie Pie guarding it. Pinkie and Twilight search for clues... and during the investigation, other desserts disappear. One of the clues (a false eyelash stuck to a painting) is Hidden in Plain Sight; the other five are outright invisible to the audience until the end of the episode, when Twilight reveals her findings regarding the cake and Pinkie reveals the fate of the other desserts.
    • Also in "P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View)", Twilight tries figuring out what happened during Applejack's, Rarity's, and Pinkie Pie's disastrous boat trip which led to the three of them not being on speaking terms. Each pony gives an exaggerated and mutually contradictory story blaming someone else, making it seem like it's going to follow the pattern of a "Rashomon"-Style episode and end with Twilight figuring out they all played a part in what happened. Instead, she reveals that what capsized the boat was... a sea monster that had not been mentioned in any way until the end, and the closest it got to any foreshadowing was a small drawing of a monster on a map and bubbles on the surface of the water briefly appearing in all three stories.