Follow TV Tropes


Defective Detective

Go To

"I'm a damn good copper — probably the only thing I was ever good at."
Francis Maguire, Copper

The greatest challenges a detective faces aren't always a devious criminal or a really tough case — all those are a cakewalk compared to managing their personal life.

The genius ones are nerds with trouble getting along with people or worse, have social or personality disorders. The hard-working ones are workaholics who let their family relationships slide because they're never home. The overworked and nervous ones dabble in drugs and court substance addictions (or blood). The Film Noir detective and his descendants have terrible luck with women, who either end up dead, broken or distant; if he has a wife he may be cheating on her. And gods help him and his friends if some of the bad guys or associates that they helped put in the clink come back to haunt him. And his personal finances are probably gone thanks to being The Gambling Addict. He's almost definitely got a pack-a-day habit.

In short, it's rare to have a detective as a main character in a dramatic story and have them not have at least one serious character flaw that's tangential to them actually working cases.

Not to be confused with Clueless Detective. Compare Hardboiled Detective.

See Also: Achilles' Heel, Bunny-Ears Lawyer, and Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?. Related to Dysfunction Junction.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Case Closed:
    • Shinichi Kudo is a fantastic detective, but he's extraordinarily socially inept in many areas, particularly in picking up blindingly obvious cues that Ran is getting exasperated with his nonstop Holmes trivia (and that she may be flirting with him). Oh, and he's spent most of the series shrunk to the body of a child, which lends itself to more than a few hardships.
    • Ran's father Kogoro is horribly bad with money; is often seen drinking or gambling and can't fix his relationships with his estranged wife. Before Conan/Shinichi helped him gain some success as a detective, he was completely down on his luck, but even now he clearly has issues. Alternately Played for Laughs (because he's also quite the Butt-Monkey) or Drama (since it's been implied more than once that he's kind of a Sad Clown).
  • Death Note: All of the Wammy's House detectives have problems. For a start, they're all orphans. Now for the individual issues: L's social skills are awful and he has no friends, Mello has a violent inferiority complex, and Near's ability to live everyday life is ranked by the supplementary 'How To Read' material as being almost zero.
  • Kaitou Saint Tail has fourteen-year-old Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist (later Deuteragonist) Asuka Jr., who starts off with a serious case of No Social Skills, a Hair-Trigger Temper, a tendency to lash out angrily at any sign of criticism, and an Agent Scully mindset to the point of considering stage magicians to be deceiving people. It's implied to actually be a byproduct of some questionable upbringing from his currently absent mother having forced abnormally high expectations on him as a young child, and he manages to improve significantly over the course of the series just by getting actual emotional support, suggesting that he's more than capable of overcoming most of these troubles into adulthood.
  • Lupin III has Inspector Kouichi Zenigata, who despite being badass enough to be one of the only law enforcers in the world to consistently even get close to arresting the titular thief, sometimes gets reduced to being a bumbling idiot who is incredibly easy to fool. In fact, the Filipino dub explicitly has Lupin refer to him jokingly as "Defective" instead of detective!
  • Monster: Lunge's obsession with Tenma verges on psychosis and ruins both his personal and professional life, Richard Braun is a recovering alcoholic and Jan Suk is naive and trusting (which is a HUGE defect in a series with people with split personalities and/or false names, violent psychopaths and shady ex-intelligence operatives all out to try and control Johan, bystanders be damned).
  • In Moriarty the Patriot, as great a detective as Sherlock is, he also seem to have difficulty paying his rent consistently, has a drug addiction, very few friends, and shoots holes in his apartment wall, and is generally moodly and difficult to get along with. Fortunately, none of this has ever hampered his detecting job.
  • MPD Psycho: The story is about Tokyo police inspector Yosuke Kobayashi, who receives a box at work containing his still-living but dismembered girlfriend. The gruesome sight, along with the culprit's insane unrepentance when captured, causes Kobayashi to snap and develop Dissociated Identity Disorder (split personalities), which becomes the focus of the story.
  • Psycho-Pass: Most of the Enforcers have a lot of emotional baggage which is why they're latent criminals in the first place. Inspectors are not exempted from this and when their Psycho-pass goes high due to the amounts of stress, they'll eventually get demoted to Enforcer. For examples:
    • Shinya Kougami used to be an Inspector until his Psycho-pass exceeded into high level when he saw the corpse of his Enforcer, Sasayama, and eventually got demoted.
    • Tomomi Masaoka is a veteran detective before the Sibyl System was implemented. He got demoted into Enforcer when he got frustrated on the new system which caused a strained relationship with his son.
    • Shuusei Kagari diagnosed as a latent criminal at the age of 5. Given how latent criminals are treated, he has lived his entire life in rejection from society, and the resulting sullen resentment towards the Sibyl System.
    • Yayoi Kunizuka used to be a former guitarist until her Psycho-pass exceeded into high level and was placed in a institution. She decided to become an Enforcer when someone she knew turned out to be a rebel against the Sibyl System.
    • Nobuchika Ginoza resents his father who became a latent criminal while his former partner, Kougami, got demoted. As the series goes by, he regularly visits his psychiatrist who warned him about his rising Psycho-pass rate. At the end of the show, he became an Enforcer after he saw his father died to save his life.
    • Though Akane Tsunemori seems to have no emotional baggage when she joined the bureau, her failure to save her friend's life from Makishima became a turning point to her and then, she learned the truth about the Sibyl System which made her lost faith in them.

    Comic Books 
  • The extreme personality of Batman is the real one while "Bruce Wayne" is merely a facade.
    • An episode of Batman Beyond confirmed this is true in the Diniverse as well. A villain tries to manipulate Bruce Wayne by using subsonics to simulate his subconscious. It is revealed that this didn't work because the "subconscious" referred to itself as Bruce. Apparently, this isn't the name Mr. Wayne calls himself in his own head and he realized it was a fake immediately.
    • As of the One Year Later storyline, Bruce realizes how fundamentally screwed up this is and is trying to strike more of a balance between his two lives.
    • This interpretation has only been valid since the mid-80s (i.e., more or less since Batman: The Dark Knight Returns). Prior to that, Bruce Wayne was his "real" identity.
  • Fillmore Press in Bedlam is The Profiler, possessing a very deep understanding of the criminally insane mind. This is due to the fact that he himself was once a crazed killer, now cured after a long stay in a psychiatric hospital. However, even with his medication, he mostly acts like an overgrown autistic child.
  • Caballistics, Inc.: Detective Absalom (who also starred in his own spinoff) is an alcoholic.
  • Inspector Canardo takes pretty much every type of detective work (murder investigation for the police, discovering infidelity for private clients, finding where the dying men hid the gold etc.) with the same bored look on his face. His personal life consists solely of drinking in a bar by himself. While he has a good heart despite being jaded, his investigations rarely end with arrests (either the villain escapes or dies), which doesn't bother him after his fourth drink.
  • Detective Faisal Werner of Jannah Station tries really hard not to be one.
  • Oxymoron: Mary Clark has Addison's Disease, an auto-immune disease that makes her dependent on steroids. She had an episode that inadvertently caused the death of her partner, which she still feels guilty about. It also got her booted down to beat cop, until the commissioner reinstates her to deal with Oxymoron.
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police: One of the many detective conventions parodied. Both are totally insane, but as a Heroic Comedic Sociopath team rather than as The Woobie. That said, they'll sometimes dip into this reasoning to justify their ridiculous actions.
  • Nick Kelly in the British comic The Topper. His strip was originally called Send For Kelly and his assistant Cedric, but was later retitled Kelly, the Defective Detective. Ran from the 1950s to the early 1990s.
  • The Transformers (IDW): Nightbeat is shown to be pretty dysfunctional, with a fixation on cold-reading, a general Lack of Empathy and an obsession with solving puzzles and mysteries, to the point where Megatron once calls him out for not actually finding the solution until it was too late to be of any use. It actually comes in handy when he's Brainwashed and Crazy; he doesn't break free from helping the bad guys fight other Autobots, including the leader, but Rodimus is able to bring his true self to the surface by presenting him with a mystery to solve. That being said, once he's on board the Lost Light he comes across as one of the most functional simply by virtue of how much of a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits the crew is in general.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Diana befriends the PI Micah Rains, who usually is able to sort out the true perpetrator of a crime or find a kidnapped victim way quicker than the police, but is incredibly reckless, has no sense of self preservation, has been banned from most bars in Boston and is detested by the police for his rude, disrespectful cavalier attitude.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Alphabet Killer, Detective Paige always knew that she was different from her colleagues in her uncanny obsessive tendencies. She did not know, however, that these were the first signs of a mental illness that would lead to a psychotic break.
  • Aubrey in Anamorph is The Alcoholic and suffers from being Obsessively Organized.
  • The Bone Collector: Lincoln Rhyme is paralysed following an accident yet continues to help solve crimes despite being bedridden. He has to be one of the most extreme examples: he can only move his head and one finger, and the only body function he is in control over is his breathing!
  • Code of Silence: Detective Cragie is an older, alcoholic cop who is well-liked within the department, but covers up his accidental shooting of a teenager.
  • Cop: The main character, an LAPD detective played by James Woods, is a workaholic and a bit of a lech. His wife leaves him halfway through the movie because of his erratic behavior (like telling his young daughter a "bedtime story" about a gruesome murder case he had to deal with).
  • In Cure, police detective Takabe is emotionally repressed and struggles to care for his wife, whose mental health is slowly deteriorating. This may have left him susceptible to Mamiya's manipulations.
  • In Den of Thieves, O'Brien is a Dirty Cop who is constantly hungover and has a terrible home life. In fact, most the criminals are shown as having a better home life than he does.
  • Die Hard: John McClane is one of the most intrepid cops one could think of, but at the same time is a complete stinker when it comes to personal relationships (in fact the first three films deal in some form with his marriage crumbling). Not to mention his extremely disheveled appearance, which has become somewhat of a trademark.
  • Ben Shockley in The Gauntlet, Clint Eastwood's Deconstruction of Dirty Harry, is a heavy drinker and a Punch-Clock Hero, with even fewer friends than the usual Cowboy Cop.
  • Hellraiser: Inferno: Det Joseph Thorne is a workaholic additionally obsessed with mysteries, puzzles and games of all types. When he does have time to go home to his beloved wife and kids, he often spends that time with a prostitute.
  • Ellis Fielding in Loose Cannons has a split personality disorder.
  • Memento: Leonard is trying to track down the man who raped and murdered his wife and investigating several leads, but his anterograde amnesia causes him to make several ill-advised moves. These include nearly being killed by Dodd twice by misjudging the situation he finds himself in, and stealing the clothes and car of a man he just killed, then visiting that man's girlfriend not even an hour later.
  • The titular detective in Mitchell is a bumbling alcoholic slob along with being a Cowboy Cop.
  • Holland March in The Nice Guys. His wife is dead, lost in a fire that was partly Holland's fault. He's also kind of a bumbling idiot; but, he is damn good at his job.
  • Robert Downey, Jr. plays Holmes in Sherlock Holmes (2009) this way even more than his written characterization. He is unable to "turn off" his Sherlock Scan, which may play a part in his addictions, and he is an extreme narcissist.
    John Watson: Holmes, does your depravity know no bounds?
    Sherlock Holmes: No.
  • The Snowman (2017): Harry Hole is The Alcoholic and regularly falls asleep on the street; while he tries to be a good father figure to his ex's son, his attendance is spotty and it's very easy to see why he and said ex are no longer together. In the flashbacks, Gert Rafto wa even worse, to the point where his own department suspended him and didn't dig too deeply when he apparently killed himself. It is, however, unclear how good either of them actually are as detectives, since the movie's infamously Troubled Production meant that the actual plot of the investigation ended up stitched together from what they had available and is noticeably short on actual policing procedure, to the point where the murderer is found because he actively takes Harry's ex and son hostage and then calls him about it, rather than through any particular elimination of suspects or pulling on any threads.
  • To Catch a Killer (2023): Eleanor is a former drug addict prone to episodes of depression who was rejected by the FBI because she failed the psych tests. Part of the reason why Lammark recruits her is because she shares the nihilistic, antisocial views of the shooter.
  • In When Evil Calls, Detective Ringwald is an alcoholic, who lives in a rats nest of an apartment and eats Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs and whiskey for breakfast. He staggers through the film in an drunken haze, speaking in French half the time, and being incomprehensible in either language.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, detective Eddie Valiant not only has an alcohol problem, but also has trouble with his relationship and is traumatized by his brother's death.
  • Zero Effect: Arlo makes it explicit that Darryl Zero is both the world's greatest detective as well as a complete loser when he's not on a case. He seems to spend all of his time in a squalid condo chugging Tab and making terrible songs on his acoustic guitar.
    "I'm telling you he never even leaves the house, okay. I mean he's like some kind of recluse. Complete freak. No social life. In fact, no social skills. It's a strange fucking thing. When he's working, the smoothest operator you've ever seen. Brave, slick, cunning, can do anything. Soon as he gets off work, it's all gone. Afraid to go to the dry cleaners. Literally. Too uncomfortable in his own skin to go out and eat. Tactless and inept. Rude, too. Just an asshole."

  • The Little Sleep: Mark Genevich is narcoleptic and sometimes has hypnogogic hallucinations. Which is just a tiny bit inconvenient for a P.I.
  • In the short story Death Rides the Elevator by Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg, private detective Penelope Peters suffers from severe agoraphobia and is completely unable to leave her house.
  • Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks had a close childhood friend who disappeared, which haunted him for years; he eventually learned that his friend was murdered. His marriage failed and he's since had a series of complicated relationships with women. He's not an alcoholic, but he's been known to drink excessively on occasion and has gotten into a few fistfights while under the influence. His older brother was murdered, and in Bad Boy, his daughter got involved with a very bad boy who abused her and involved her in criminal activities.
  • Elizabeth Zelvin's Bruce Kohler is a recovering alcoholic. In this case that means that he woke up in a Bowery detox after a Christmas Eve blackout and saw one of his fellow patients die painfully a few days later. One reason he invetigates crimes is to distract from the boredom of sobriety.
  • The trope name is dropped verbatim in the title of Stephen Leacock's story Maddened by Mystery: or, The Defective Detective is about one who ends up Becoming the Mask as a result of Emergency Impersonation. It... doesn't end well for the detective – his Full-Body Disguise works a bit too well and brings about his demise.
  • Inspector Allhoff was a jerk before his legs got shot off in a botched raid. Now he's a bitter, hateful monster who delights in tormenting everyone around him, especially the young cop responsible for his disability.
  • Parodied in The Areas of My Expertise with a list of ridiculous detectives, including one who was his own worst enemy, one who was a Satanist, and one who never got out of his bathtub.
  • Ewart Backstrom in the Backstrom novels, an overweight boorish alcoholic of little ability and inflated ego.
  • Vicki Nelson in Tanya Huff's Blood Books series. Had to quit the police force after developing a degenerative disease in her eyes, and became a PI who teams with a vampire because she can't see at night.
  • Detective Ryan of the Temperance Brennan novels (the basis for Bones) is divorced and still dealing with the discovery that he has a daughter by his ex wife and she's addicted to drugs and always in trouble.
    • Main character Temperance Brennan (not to be confused with the TV series version) was an alcoholic in the past and is divorced from her cheating husband. Worse, she's always getting targeted by the killers she and Ryan chase.
  • Bubbles Marlowe from Bubbles in Space is The Alcoholic and just not terribly good at her job but her obviousness as well as willingness to go right up to people and accuse them often results in her unwittingly solving the cases anyway. The fact she's in a conspiracy filled Cyberpunk setting and has an amazing habit of surviving impossible situations helps even more.
  • Nick Moss, the gumshoe of City of Devils, Fifty Feet of Trouble, and Wolfman Confidential is not an impressive man.
  • Douglas Adam's Dirk Gently is a highly competent detective who can piece together the most bizarre cases thanks to his holistic approach (as advertised by his 'Holistic Detective Agency' operation) though his personal life is a complete mess. For one thing, he hasn't opened his fridge in years and is engaged in a daring game of chicken with his cleaning lady who are both trying to trick the other into opening it first.
    • An Alternative Character Interpretation is that Dirk is accidentally a highly competent detective, having created the entire notion of Holistic Detection in order to provide an explanation for submitting all-encompassing expense reports to his clients. He always solves the case, but his motivation is less about Justice, Closure, or Solving The Unsolvable, and more along the lines of "I want to do whatever I like, and get someone else to pay for it all." The TV Adaptation of the first book leaned very heavily in this direction, and gave Dirk some interesting new flaws. In particular, he was quite willing to hypnotize his apparent best friend into "investing" in the agency, said investment being promptly used to give himself a nice holiday.
  • Discworld:
    • Commander Sam Vimes: When we first meet him in Guards! Guards!, he's an miserable, misanthropic alcoholic, in charge of one of the most ragtag police forces that fiction has ever seen. The reader first meets him in a literal gutter, piss-drunk. (It is suggested later that he didn't start out like this, but had his idealism ground out of him by 25 years on Ankh-Morpork's (very) mean streets.) The arrival of Carrot, his first encounter with his future wife Sybil and the defeat of the dragon start him on his way back up towards at, the very least, Knight in Sour Armor-hood. But it takes until the third book for him to be completely on the wagon, and a full seven to give him a wife, a working police force, and a beloved son. And, after all of that, he's still more of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold than your classic hero.
      • And he still has the small matter of the demon-brand of the Summoning Dark on his arm to worry about occasionally.
    • Angua herself is a better example, being a werewolf aware of her own species' propensity to mayhem and mental disturbances. Her psychopathic brother Wolfgang killed her sister and drove her other brother away from the family, and conspired with their mother to dominate Uberwald politics. Her fellow police can't help but carry silver in her presence, and even the city's resident undead are unfriendly to her because she's a cop.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Harry's childhood is one long Trauma Conga Line. His mother died in childbirth (though, as it turns out, her enemies killed her by childbirth, he spent his early youth living on the road with his father, who died of an aneurysm when Harry was six (again, not necessarily without "help"). Then, he ended up in the care of Justin DuMorne who taught him about magic while at the same time trying to Mind Rape him into a Tyke Bomb and Person of Mass Destruction, and only survived due to sheer luck and the intervention of some of his mother's supernatural allies. This ended with his foster father dying by Harry's hand, which in turn led to him being tried by the White Council and would have led to his execution had Ebenezer McCoy not intervened.
    • Harry Dresden has serious woman troubles. His first love is Mind Raped into betraying him in the backstory (and he doesn't find out it was due to Mind Rape until later in the series), and she pretends to be dead so he thinks he killed her. His second love is half turned into a vampire and forever suffers serious temptation - which he blames himself for. His third love turns out to have been mind controlled into being with him, and doesn't actually have any (romantic) feelings for him. And to top it all off his second love comes back in Changes and reveals that she had his kid without telling him. And then he's forced to kill her. Various obstacles including his, and later her, death keep getting in the way of him and a female friend taking their relationship to the next level. To top things off, his best friend's daughter (who became his apprentice and ward for complicated reasons) is also in love with him, something which he has tried and failed to discourage. Then he ends up forced into an Arranged Marriage with a sometime-ally, sometime-enemy with a serious grudge against him, who also happens to be a succubus and one of the series' premier rapists of both minds and bodies.
    • Harry also develops severe pyrophobia after a close-range encounter with a flamethrower leaves him with a severely burnt left hand. In the following books, a lot of bad guys suddenly start using fire-based attacks... and that's without considering his own usual reliance on fire spells as part of his combat repertoire. For a while it's indeed bad enough that he can't even bring himself to light a candle with magic. Then in Turn Coat, his encounter with an Eldritch Abomination incapacitates him completely whenever he so much as remembers bits of the experience. Jim Butcher does love to torture Harry.
  • Dr. Thorndyke was written as a very deliberate aversion of this trope according to his author R. Austin Freeman, who felt that the trope had become overused, clichéd and exaggerated in many authors inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Thorndyke is a brilliant but humble and pleasant man whose only vice is a particularly disgusting variety of cigars.
  • The Expanse: Miller starts out as an at best semi-functional drunk whose partners get assigned to him as punishment detail. Then he develops an unhealthy obsession with the much younger woman he's trying to find. Then he starts hallucinating her. Things go downhill from there.
  • The protagonist of Fatherland, set in an alternate universe where Nazi Germany won WWII, Kripo investigator Sturmbannführer Xavier March is a socially isolated, rather taciturn workaholic, with hardly any social contacts except for two friends (one of whom turns out to be a betrayer at the novel's end), a marriage in total shambles (his wife either divorced or separated, which is not made clear in the novel, but living with another man at any rate) and a son who hates him - being a fanatical young Nazi while March is utterly disillusioned with the regime and the ideology, actively resisting Party membership, not participating in any "national events" and being a borderline dissident. As if that were not enough, he seems to have a mild (at least) case of PTSD from his service in the war and some unresolved father issues, seeing as his father -like March- had been in the Kriegsmarine and had died at sea, with March feeling pressured to follow in his footsteps. Nevertheless, he seems to be one of the best investigators the Kripo has, with the "cunning of a fox" and a determination that seems to border on the maniacal. This trait, together with his cynical, disillusioned outlook and the fact that despite having grown up in the Third Reich, he has a very well-functioning moral compass, and his persistent drive to find out what happened to the previous owners of his apartment (who were Jews, so it's quite clear to the reader what happened to them ) both causes March a huge amount of problems and serves as the catalyst and main drive for the novel's plot.
  • Zig-zagged in 5-Minute Sherlock. Sherman Holmes isn't really "the world's greatest detective" as he claims. He's the only survivor of some sinister organization's attempt to test a mind-acceleration drug on a group of unsuspecting partiers. His mind is constantly bombarded by a torrent of information, and he has trouble processing it all. Even the name "Sherman Holmes" is something he begins to call himself (his real name is classified) because he has no memories of his life before the event and because he believes himself to be a lateral descendant of the great detective himself (who is fictional, of course). His handler, Agent 221 (heretofore known as Joel Watson), learns that Sherman can go into controlled 5-minute bursts every few hours that allow his mind to control the flow of information and get him to make instant calculations and provide solutions, after which he passes out for about an hour. The rest of the day, Sherman is an annoyance at best and a bumbling fool at worst.
  • Many members of Michael Slade's "Special X," the fictional RCMP homicide unit from Literature/Ghoul and other novels, have taken a pounding over the years. Zinc Chandler in particular fits this trope, having developed epilepsy after narrowly surviving being shot in the head.
  • Gorky Park: Arkady Renko is a workaholic, very cynical (especially in regards towards the Communist Party and their declarations), and is a chain smoker. Guess which one gets him in trouble while working a triple-homicide case in Moscow in the 1980s. His wife is having an affair behind his back, and while that is going on, he falls in love with a political dissident who is involved in the murder case he is investigating.
  • Harry Hole is severely alcoholic, prone to bouts of depression, and has major issues with relationships. He's also probably the sharpest detective on the Oslo police force, which is likely the only reason he still has his job.
  • Hercule Poirot: Poirot suffers from a minor case of OCD; the books go into more detail regarding his love of neatness than the television series — the first novel actually has him finding a vital clue as a result of rearranging the decorations on a mantelpiece.
  • Charles Todd's Inspector Rutledge, a shell-shocked WWI veteran who constantly hallucinates the ghost of a soldier he had to execute.
  • Dr. Wendall Urth from The Singing Bell and other Isaac Asimov stories. He won't go anywhere he can't walk, and the mere mention of an airplane trip sends him scuttling from the room in fear. But he caught a murderer with no apparent evidence, recognized the location of important coordinates, note  and figures out how to possibly retrieve important data thought lost.note 
  • Kurt Wallander: Kurt has diabetes, an alcohol problem which is not quite alcoholism but always verges on it, no contact with his ex-wife, bad contact with his father and daughter, no friends, etcetera etcetera. (Fridge Brilliance: Shouldn't a limited third person narrative describe an actual alcoholic as a borderline alcoholic?) And in the end, for all his troubles, he gets to retire... with Alzheimers.
  • Jack Vincennes in L.A. Confidential is a capable enough detective but he's also a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who once shot two innocent people under the influence. In something of a subversion, getting back on the wagon does not make him a superb crime solver but pretty much screws his life up.
  • Chris Black, of the League of Magi novella "Coldheart" is a paranoid schizophrenic who can't even be certain the disappearance he's investigating is even happening.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey has a lot of advantages, being a filthy rich aristocrat, but he also has a severe case of shell-shock (post-traumatic stress disorder, in modern terms).
  • Helen Walsh in Marian Keyes' novel The Mystery of Mercy Close is chronically depressed. She's contemplated attempting suicide so many times that in one Imagine Spot of hers, she leaves a polite note that she committed suicide for whoever finds her body.
  • The title character of the Mediochre Q Seth Series has some, uh, issues. In fairness, so would you if you were trapped in a teenage body for ever.
  • In Michael Kurland's Moriarty series, beginning with The Infernal Device, Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as a bit more defective than in the original series, especially when it comes to his ability to think rationally about what Moriarty says and does.
  • The Millennium Series features Lisbeth Salander. She's small, antisocial, and can be described as a Sociopathic Hero who Hates Being Touched.
  • Mitch Tobin: Tobin, given his avoidant personality disorder and guilt complex.
  • In the novel Mr Monk And The Blue Flu, Lee Goldberg has Monk during the titular Blue Flu working with three other detectives who have been involuntarily retired — each bonkers in a different way, and each with his or her minder. Natalie finds that their issues make Monk look normal. It should be noted that the mayor hired these four (Monk and the other three detectives) because of the labor shortage. And Natalie only needs to see one look at Monk to realize that the reason the mayor wants him to lead them is because even if he doesn't know them, he probably understands their troubles better than anyone else (besides their shrinks).
    • There's Jack Wyatt, a very Dirty Harry-like detective with anger management problems who was fired after the city lost a number of lawsuits caused by his tactics. His anger management counselor Arnie is his helper.
    • Then there's Cynthia Chow, a paranoid schizophrenic who sees conspiracy theories everywhere, who was relieved of her badge due to her condition getting pretty severe. Her "curse" becomes a "gift" in that it allows her to tie together seemingly unrelated cases. Jasper Perry, her shrink, is her helper.
    • Last is Frank Porter, an ex-detective who has senility issues, helped by his granddaughter Sparrow.
  • Nero Wolfe has the flaws of a considerable ego, a touch of agoraphobia (or simply a marked preference for staying at home), and his considerable girth (he is said to weigh "a seventh of a ton," approximately 286 lbs making him "morbidly obese" in the era in which the story was originally written, but hardly noteworthy today). Wolfe is shown to be able to have the will to overcome all these flaws when solving crime.
    • In fact, Wolfe arguably inverts this; he's at his happiest being an eccentric, slightly kooky shut-in and and one of his great peeves is having to work. Rather than his eccentricities getting in the way of his solving crimes, Wolfe in fact tends to view the situation as people making him solve crimes getting in the way of his eccentricities.
  • Downplayed in Sherlock Holmes, who, in addition to being extremely cold and distant to most who knew him (it's no surprise he only has one real friend) and having manic/depressive tendencies, had morphine and cocaine addictions that plagued him until Watson helped him get over them. However, the drug use stops when he takes on an interesting case, his eccentricities are only a small part of the story, and never get in his way while solving a crime. (The legacy of the character is perhaps a bit different— his personality defects are severely played up in many of the many adaptations to be found in the Film and Live-Action TV sections.)
  • The Well of Lost Plots: Subverted. Thursday is hiding out in a very bad police procedural novel, and the protagonist, DI Spratt, is forced to have a dysfunctional family on the point of breaking up because the novel is so cliched. Thursday helps him out by making him subtly change the narrative. It turns out that the dreadful police procedural is a poor early draft of another Fforde novel, and when that novel is published Spratt and his family have become perfectly functional.
  • The Yiddish Policemen's Union: Meyer Landsman of Michael Chabon's novel is an alcoholic mess, has massive problems about family, guilt, religion, and chess, and is a hard-as-nails Determinator to boot.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Astrid: Played for Drama. Title character Astrid Nielsen is autistic, and frequently has problems with Sensory Overload and her difficulty with social cues. Fortunately, the Crime Squad and particularly her partner Commander Raphaëlle Coste do their level best to accommodate her difficulties, and she's a genius criminologist with a particular talent for spotting connections between cold case files (her day job is managing documents at Criminal Records).
  • Detective (Kommissar) Gereon Rath of Babylon Berlin is a clever and insightful investigator and information gatherer, but his personal life isn't nearly as well put together. He's a Shell-Shocked Veteran of World War I who suffers from shakes and trembles that he controls with laudanum, which he's since become addicted to. His older brother Anno died on the Western Front, leaving him with piles of Survivor Guilt especially because he abandoned him to his fate, not to mention that he's decidedly the Unfavorite son (his father says out loud that "the wrong son came home"), and he's been in love with his brother's widow Helga for years, even while Anno was alive. Even when he and Helga can have an open relationship after Anno is officially declared dead, he has no idea how to integrate them into his troubled life which leads to a tumultuous romance that ends with Helga leaving him for an even more unstable business tycoon. All in all, not a man to envy all that much.
  • Everett Backstrom in Backstrom, an overweight boorish alcoholic of little ability and inflated ego.
  • Beforeigners: Lars is a less dramatic and more functional example than many on this list, but he is a divorced bigot with a prescription drug addiction and no life outside work.
  • Blue Bloods: Victor Lugo taunts Danny Reagan with this trope, referring to him as Defective Reagan.
  • Blind Justice. Jim Dunbar is a blind NYPD detective who was allowed to carry a gun.
  • Bones. With her lack of social skills, Temperance Brennan may have a mild case of Asperger's syndrome. According to the show's creator Hart Hanson, Zack Addy "almost definitely has Asperger's syndrome." Brennan is also traumatized from the disappearance of her parents, and her subsequent experiences in foster care.
  • The Bridge (2011) deconstructs this, as all of its detective characters eventually find the effects of their flaws catching up with them:
    • Saga Norén: By-the-Book Cop with No Social Skills (according to Word of God, she is definitely on the autistic spectrum) and a tragic backstory that unfolds over the course of the show. Endures a Trauma Conga Line in series 3 when her protective boss is murdered and replaced by a new one who is well-intentioned but completely fails to understand her disability and thinks she can be bullied into "normality", and her abusive mother commits suicide and frames her for matricide. By the end of the season she's suspended from the police and in serious danger of being prosecuted for murder, leading to a suicide attempt.
    • Martin Rohde: He appears to be more functional than Saga, but his inability to be faithful to women proves to have partially caused the murders of the first season, and at the end of the second season he despairingly murders the first season's killer and is imprisoned himself.
    • Henrik Sabroe: Functional Addict whose family disappeared several years ago. By the end of his season he has been suspended from the police after his drug abuse is discovered.
  • The title character of the obscure Canadian comedy show Butch Patterson Private Dick is this Played for Laughs. Butch is a chronic alcoholic who prematurely ejaculates, continually wets his pants, often wakes up in alleys or the woods either with his pants down or dressed in drag after his drinking binges, suffers from kleptomania, has a disturbing tendency to try on lingerie, is banned for life from the local petting zoo, says that prison isn't so bad once you get used to the sodomy, been forced to whore himself out to other men when he's flat broke, is addicted to hardcore pornography, can only get prostitutes to sleep with him, and blackmails everyone from his landlord to alcohol deliverymen.
  • Detective Kate Beckett on Castle plays with the trope; she's clearly got issues surrounding the murder of her mother, but has apparently managed to more or less put it behind her at the beginning of the series... until Castle unwittingly digs it all up again, leading to her eventually falling back 'down the rabbit hole' into her obsession with solving it over the course of the series. Season 4 further piles on by giving her psychological trauma following being shot in the chest in the Season 3 finale, leading to a complete PTSD breakdown in one episode. This aside this, even in the early episodes it's pretty clear that her mother's murder has left her more or less a cynical workaholic with little capacity to enjoy life outside of her job until Castle shows up.
  • Columbo either has shades of this trope, or pretends he does, so well that the audience never sees him slip. Certainly the suspects believe he's one.
  • Fitz in Cracker, an overweight alcoholic adulterer with a gambling addiction. For extra irony, he's a hypercompetent criminal psychologist who is capable of deducing anybody's issues in a heartbeat... including his own. He's just powerless to do anything about it. He does try, when it becomes obvious that his marriage and his relationship with his children is at stake. However, he finds he likes the way he is too much.
  • Find me a recurring Criminal Minds character who isn't dealing with PTSD flashbacks, traumatic childhood experiences, a family history of mental illness, a slight substance problem, intermittent explosive episodes, or chronic relationship trouble, and then be prepared to be proven wrong half a season later.
    • Ever since JJ became a full-time profiler in season seven, she now fits the Defective Detective description (she was previously the media liasion). She had PTSD after Reid's kidnapping, she shot the guy that shot Garcia, her older sister committed suicide when she was eleven, and the fact that almost every time the team has a case involving young blond women or small town women her demeanor changes. She either gets angry faster ("North Mammon") or just has that look on her face ("Birthright"). It's not as bad as any of the others' (Hotch, Reid, and Emily have the hardest time hiding it. Emily is blatantly obvious if you go back and watch "A Higher Power".), but it's still there.
  • CSI, let me count the ways:
    • Gil Grissom is socially awkward and gets in trouble because he doesn't play the politics game. Early in the series, he had a near-brush with hereditary hearing loss that would've ended his career.
    • Sara Sidle's laundry list of issues only start with having witnessed her mother kill her abusive father when she was young and worrying from then on whether murder is a genetic trait.
    • Catherine Willows divorced her husband, and work keeps her from spending enough time with her daughter, and oh, her father may be connected to the mob but no one can prove he's done anything. Then he got shot and died in her arms.
    • Warrick Brown started the series with a gambling addiction and a rookie dies on his watch because he left the scene to place a bet, near the end of his tenure on the show he starts abusing prescription drugs.
    • Jim Brass has an estranged daughter (who turned out not to be his biological child) and left his old job in New Jersey because he couldn't be bought. Divorced due to both his and his wife's infidelity.
    • Nick Stokes was abused by his babysitter when he was nine and has an issue with closed spaces after the "Grave Danger" episodes.
    • Greg Sanders was traumatized after the explosion in the lab and later the entire "Fannysmacking" story-line.
    • Julie Finn got fired back in Seattle for breaking the rules during a case. Of course, DB was that boss and she's working for him again...
    • Morgan Brody dealt for years with her father, Conrad Ecklie, not doing anything to stop her mom from taking her and leaving when she was 14. Though they've gotten closer after she moved to Vegas and he got shot.
    • The only one who mostly averts it is DB Russell, at least in his background. During the series, though, he had his granddaughter kidnapped and his son suspected of murder for a time. Plus having to deal with the same son getting mixed up with the actual killer.
  • CSI: Miami:
    • Horatio Caine's mother and wife were murdered. Abused by his father. Had to deal with fallout from his brother's actions while undercover.
    • Caleigh Duquesne's father is an alcoholic. A fellow officer turned into a Stalker with a Crush before committing suicide in the Lab due to her rejection.
    • Eric Delco got shot and suffered from memory loss, which caused much of his work to be called into question by defense attorneys.
    • Ryan Wolfe got caught up with criminals while trying to pay off gambling debts, which cost him his job and his co-workers' respect. Also got shot dangerously close to his eye with a nail gun.
  • CSI: NY:
    • Mac Taylor lost his wife to 9/11. Framed for murder by a killer who committed suicide in custody. Blown up several times. Taken hostage twice and nearly drowned the second time. Had a Stalker with a Crush for a while. Got a "Dear John" Letter via airmail from a girlfriend who stayed in London after convincing him to go there with her. First partner turned out to be a Dirty Cop. Shot and left for dead but survived, although it caused a bout with speech aphasia which his trying to hide almost cost him his new girlfriend. Of course, that was before he had to rescue her from kidnappers.
    • Lindsay Messer was the sole survivor of a massacre that killed her friends when she was a teenager. Had to shoot a deranged killer to protect herself, Danny and their infant daughter.
    • Stella Bonasera: Orphan and foster child. Nearly killed by abusive boyfriend, whom she had to shoot to death in self-defense. Finds out her life-long mentor is not only an antiquities thief but is also quite possibly her father... right before the man's brother (possibly her uncle) shoots him and he dies in her arms.
    • Jo Danville: Divorced her chauvinistic husband. Her sister was killed by a drunk driver. Kicked out of the FBI by a vengeful senator after she turned in a Dirty Cop. Then the rapist in the case came back and nearly killed her (before she shot him to death, too).
    • Danny Messer: Shot in the back and left temporarily paralyzed. His brother was beaten by a vengeful mob guy and may or may not be dead or severely damaged. Had his and Lindsay's home invaded by a deranged serial killer who held his daughter hostage and who Lindsay had to shoot to stop.
    • Sheldon Hawkes: Sister was murdered by an addict. He was framed for murder by the same guy who targeted Danny and Lindsay, caught in a prison riot by the same killer. Swindled out of his life savings. Got in trouble due to a random drug test right after he'd been exposed to marijuana second-hand. He and his girlfriend narrowly escaped being injured in an explosion while on a date...that he'd called in sick for.
    • Adam Ross: Possible OCD issues, definite insecurity issues. Most likely from having an Abusive father who now has Alzheimer's and therefore doesn't remember his actions, so Adam gets no closure when he finally confronts him.
    • Don Flack: Training officer/Mentor turned into a Dirty Cop. Girlfriend shot and killed in the line of duty. Alcoholic sister with Daddy issues caused him problems both personally and professionally.
  • Dexter, by status of being a sociopath who has to fake social skills, and a Serial-Killer Killer in his spare time. Angel, Deb, pretty much everyone Dex works with to some extent, actually, also fall into this.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Robots of Death" the two detectives are the least mentally stable members of the cast, with the exception of the villain and arguably the Doctor. Poul spirals increasingly into madness between his paranoid agent hyperawareness and his initially mild Uncanny Valley Phobia getting triggered by the situation, and has a complete mental breakdown at the beginning of the fourth act that makes him useless from that point on. D84 is more helpful, but is clearly an eccentric by the standards of robots - somehow, it is able to go against its own programming in pursuit of its work, which leaves it less than stable, and its story ends with it blowing out its own brains in order to save the Doctor.
  • Due South
    • Benton Fraser: Lost his mother to a killer at age 6. Lost his father to another killer as an adult. His father (now a ghost) takes an intrusive interesting in spending time with him post-mortem. Framed for murder by vengeful ex girlfriend (who he had previously put in prison after they fell in love with each other).
    • Ray K: Caught in a bank robbery that scared him so badly he wet his pants in front of his future (now ex) wife. Had his whole life uprooted so he could pretend to be Ray V while the latter went undercover, leaving him to deal with the fallout from Ray V's previous actions without knowing anything about them.
    • But he must have had Ray V's files, which he could read to find out about him and his cases. Ray V may not have put everything in the file, however. I don't think he's as defective as Fraser or Ray V. The fandom just likes to make him into a victim.
    • Ray V: Abusive, alcoholic dad whom he continued to have issues with even after the guy died.(another case of arguing with the ghost). Had his whole life uprooted to go undercover with The Mafia, only to have it happen again and have to deal with having been replaced by Ray K in the meantime when he returns to the force.
  • Subverted in Foyle's War - even taking into account the World War II setting, DCS Foyle is usually one of the most well-adjusted people around at the time. His assistant, Sergeant Milner, is closer to the trope, as he has to deal with having had his leg shot off in the Battle of Norway, but even he's got his head screwed on tighter than some of the others making this list.
  • Averted at first with Grimm concerning Nick Burkhardt. While he's dealing with his newfound status as a Grimm and the death of the only family he knows, he still generally avoids being a troubled or broken individual, and fares quite well both as a person and as a the first season. Then his girlfriend loses her memories of him and his mom comes back, then he gets turned into an uncontrollable rage zombie who kills someone and leaves him with some Came Back Wrong issues, then he gets raped and loses his powers, and all the while he slowly-but-surely becomes more of a Blood Knight. After all that, he crosses into this trope.
  • Will Graham in Hannibal is odd and unsocial and is hinted to have an unnamed mental condition. To top it off, he has the gift of "pure empathy" which allows him to get into the minds of the criminals he hunts and causes him to experience nightmares and crippling anxiety. Not to mention the encephalitis (which causes hallucinations, disassociative episodes, and severe headaches) and his psychiatrist not only kept this from him but is Hannibal Lecter.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street:
    • Frank Pembleton and Tim Bayliss come to mind. Pembleton's single-minded drive for justice leads him to renounce his Catholic faith and leave his wife, at least for a while, and he has a stroke that sidelines him for much of the fifth season. Bayliss has to deal with an unsolved child-murder that haunts him throughout the series, the trauma of being sexually molested by his uncle, and a gunshot wound that changes his entire outlook on life.
    • Nearly every detective on Giardello's shift fits this trope to varying degrees: Munch and his ex-wives, Gee's estrangement from his son, Kellerman being dogged by corruption allegations stemming from his time in Arson, the depression that drove Crosetti to suicide...and on and on.
  • Gregory House from House is a narcissist, drug addict, and in great pain. Treating run-of-the-mill illness is beneath him. His only escape is diagnosing tough cases that have stumped other doctors, much in the same way that the Great Detective solves cases that have stumped the police.
  • Innocent: Protagonist Yusuf exhibits elements of the trope at the start of the series, having a preteen daughter he rarely sees, a tumultuous relationship with his ex-wife, and a tendency to harass said ex-wife's new paramour. By the final episode, things are looking a little better for him.
  • The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: Lynley and Havers, both of them. Lynley is a workaholic with a personal life worthy of a soap opera. Havers is a Broken Bird who has raised antisociality and self-protection via jerkassery to an art form. Somehow, they become incredibly close friends anyway, which spawns an absolutely glorious amount of Character Development for both.
  • Inspector Morse, although he's far more educated and erudite than most others on this page, is still a moody, depressive alcoholic who's suffered through an abusive childhood and has absolutely terrible luck with women. His partner/successor Lewis does have some personal tragedy under his belt by the time of his sequel series ( mainly, the deaths of both Morse and his own wife), but for the most part he manages to to stay professional.
  • Ironside (1967) and its remake Ironside (2013). In both versions, the title is a reference to the main character's wheelchair and his name, Robert Ironside.
  • Jericho Of Scotland Yard: Michael Jericho's father was a Dirty Cop who was shot in front of him, and Jericho spends his entire career simultaneously trying to show his dead father up and make his dead father proud of him. He has no life outside his work, the only girl he ever loved married someone else while he and his partner Clive Harvey were off fighting in WWII, and his call-girl sometime-girlfriend winds up being basically kidnapped by the man who brought down Jericho's father. This leads him to be driven, harsh, and in so much pain it's difficult to watch at times.
  • Jessica Jones (2015): Jessica is severely alcaholic and has untreated PTSD when the series starts due to having been enslaved by Kilgrave's Compelling Voice for years. She makes some progress at the end of the first season after she kills him, but never actually recovers and her problems eventually wind up driving most of her friends away by the third season.
  • Downplayed heavily by Jonathan Creek, who is a mildly eccentric introvert who doesn't cope well with the limelight but is more often the Straight Man to his Watson.
  • The Last Detective Dangerous Davies is seen as a defective detective and given all the crappy jobs because he is a police officer who turns in one of his own. At the start of the series this has caused his relationship with his wife to deteriorate.
  • Several in the Law & Order franchise:
    • Law & Order: Lennie Briscoe had two failed marriages, a battle with alcoholism, and his daughter got involved with drugs and was later murdered by a drug dealer.
    • Robert Goren in Law & Order: Criminal Intent has, over the years, had his quirks played up so much that, as of the current season, he recognizes that he's considered a nutjob by others in the department. Even he questions his sanity. And while Mike Logan isn't a brilliant detective, he's had to deal with a reputation as an out-of-control incident waiting to happen. Lampshaded twice: when he interrogates a fence while threatening him with a broken pool cue, and later when he gets a temporary partner who's even more of a hothead than he is. He even looks forward to being the diplomatic one for a change.
    • Speaking of Mike Logan, shall we mention his violently abusive mother? And how it's heavily implied a local parish priest sexually molested him as a child? All of which contributed a teeny bit to that little bit of a temper problem he has?
    • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Elliot Stabler's anger issues. Olivia Benson's Child-Of-Rape Guilt issues. Munch's crazy.
  • Longstreet was a shortlived TV series about an insurance investigator who was blind.
  • The Method has an alcoholic Serial-Killer Killer with brain damage that causes hallucinations accept an apprentice for Passing the Torch before his hallucinations make him unable to work. Unfortunately, his method drives her to drinking too, among other things.
  • Actively subverted with DCI Tom Barnaby of Midsomer Murders, an easy-going, well-adjusted family man who is by far the most stable and sane character presented in the series, given that he lives in the deadliest rural county in England.
  • Monk:
    • The central character is the Trope Namer. He's a detective with obsessive–compulsive personality disorder, along with a plethora of smaller issues like a laundry list of phobias orbiting it. (Occasionally other characters and the promos even call him "the Defective Detective"). In the Russian dub, the name of the show is The Defective Detective!
    • To a lesser extent, Captain Stottlemeyer counts. He has had two failed marriages (his first one actually only lasted a week! The other lasted 20 years and fell apart in the normal way). His next serious girlfriend is Linda Fusco, who Monk and Natalie expose in "Mr. Monk and the Bad Girlfriend" as having shot and killed her business partner.
  • The main cast of Murdoch Mysteries includes closeted homosexuals, illegitimate children, angsty suffragettes and at least one actual murderer. Most of them make the title character look normal.
  • Brian 'Memory' Lane in New Tricks.
  • Charlie Eppes of NUMB3RS - a mathematical genius who uses his talents to help his FBI agent brother solve crimes, he has emotional difficulties to the point that he locks himself in the garage to work on unsolvable problems when he can't deal with life.
    • Charlie is a university teacher who perceives criminal cases as interesting mathematical problems. So he is more Ditzy Genius than Defective Detective.
    • In any case the garage thing seems to me to be little more then a mild eccentricity.
  • Special Agent Alex Mahone of Prison Break, fully as smart as escape mastermind Scofield ... also a drug addict constantly teetering on the verge of a mental breakdown.
    • Plus he has the body of a criminal he had previously hunted buried in his backyard. Something that gives him troubling flashbacks and allows The Company to blackmail him.
  • Shawn Spencer from Psych gets in his own way more often than not because he comes across so buffoonish that almost no one takes him seriously. He's a lot more well-adjusted and relaxed about things than most of the other detectives here though.
    • Shawn is, in fact, a brilliant detective pretending to be a crazy psychic because he believes the police won't believe the truth. Plus it allows him to act all goofy and solve crime without being a police officer.
      • He committed a prank that went bad and was convicted of car theft making it impossible for him to become a police officer if he wanted to. He enjoyed watching crimestoppers tapes and picking up clues that were very difficult to guess and sending them in on the police tipline. He did this so often, he was considered a suspect and had to claim to be a psychic to explain his knowledge to avoid prison time.
    • Shawn's major "defect" is refusing to grow up. He is rebelling against his father, a former police officer who tried to get Shawn to join the force too and made Shawn pretty miserable as a child (though from what has been shown his father was just strict and meddling, not a particularly Abusive Parent). Shawn can't let his dad "win," and so avoids adult responsibility as much as possible, and only used his gifts for observation by making crimestoppers' calls until the psychic detective schtick gave him the chance to use his skills and be an embarrassment to his father at the same time. (The show is in some sense a delayed Coming of Age Story.)
    • His rival/opposite number Head Detective Carlton Lassiter is socially stunted, coming down off of a difficult divorce, and extremely, unhealthily paranoid. He was also neglected as a child.
  • Ned in Pushing Daisies has the ability to raise the dead, making him the best murder investigator on the planet, and while not as obviously dysfunctional as someone like Monk, has layer upon layer of personal trauma that manifests as issues with intimacy, a paucity of real passions aside from his love of baking and his rewarding but frustrating relationship with his girlfriend, hyper-cautiousness and a general malaise. No wonder Ned has intimacy issues: if he even touches Chuck, she'll die, because he's already brought her back from the dead.
  • Raines: Detective Michael Raines would be haunted by the Victim of the Week until he solved their murder... except in his case, the people only he can see and talk to aren't ghosts; they're hallucinations.
  • DCI Tanner in the series Second Sight: being ambitious, he attempts to conceal the fact that he's losing his vision from everyone but his detective partner.
  • As mentioned under Literature, this aspect of Sherlock Holmes is often exaggerated in adaptation:
    • In Elementary, he is a socially inept recovering drug addict with serious Daddy Issues.
    • In Sherlock, he's an outright (self professed!) high-functioning sociopath. He is also portrayed as literally addicted to the intellectual stimulation of his detective work— in the first episode, he engages in a likely-suicidal action just because he needs to know if a deduction is right.
  • The French cop show Syndrome E (an adaptation of the novel by Franck Thilliez & Anbara Salam) has two of them as partners—Franck Sharko who talks to a hallucination of his deceased daughter, and Lucie Henebelle—victim of Mad Science experiments when she was a teenager that create homicidal rages.
  • Every other inspector in Tatort; examples include the abrasive, socially insensitive Lena Odenthal, chronically depressed Peter Faber, Till Ritter who's prone to gambling, Sebastian Bootz who spirals into anger issues and alcoholism after his divorce, and the list goes on.
  • Played mostly for comedy in Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, and zig-zagged for one of the two leads.
    • Lionel Whitney zig-zags the trope in that his biggest problem is that he decided to become a detective (after spending most of his working life as a stockbroker) as a way of living out his pulp fiction-inspired dreams of being a hard-boiled gumshoe, and as a result tends to see the cases his agency takes on in melodramatic genre terms. At the same time he's not quite equipped to handle the grayed morality and action that requires in practice, being something of a Knight in Shining Armor. More straightforwardly, he's also prone to The Dulcinea Effect, is overly trusting of others (he gets conned by two kids in the course of 13 episodes!), and in the last episode it's revealed that his parents are deeply disappointed he gave up his old life for a career that leaves him in Perpetual Poverty.
    • E.L. Turner, his partner, is an ex-con out on parole. While Lionel especially is determined to keep him on the straight and narrow, E.L. is prone to hatching zany schemes to counteract the aforementioned Perpetual Poverty — usually by way of his Master of Disguise skills — which sometimes run headlong into the case of the week with varying consequences.
  • Taken to truly ludicrous extremes by A Touch of Cloth, in which the entire cast is aggressively dysfunctional to a level of Stylistic Suck. Threatening to blow your own brains out to prove how serious you are about something is common. Jack Cloth, in particular, has many opportunities for happiness which he squanders in favour of truly amoral Dirty Business, and constantly hand-wrings about how he can't stand to get close to anyone because of his dead wife (except when he does, a lot, with the entire rest of the cast).
  • The American version of Touching Evil starred a police officer who'd lost most of his impulse control after a gunshot-induced brain injury.
  • Both of the main characters for season one of True Detective embody this trope: outwardly, Rust Cohle is extremely quiet and stoic or even depressed. Get him to talk and he shows himself to be an incredibly cynical nihilist who claims human consciousness is a mistake of nature, mostly as a result of his deceased daughter. Cohle also suffers the effects of multiple substance abuse, both current and former, mostly due to an overlong period as a DEA undercover agent. His partner, Martin Hart, is outwardly a much better-adjusted family man, but in truth he's a self-justifying adulterer, so possessive of his family and mistress that he borders on treating them like devices to make him feel better, prone to solving his personal issues with violence or abuse of his authority, and also has some alcoholism issues.
  • The Tunnel: Elise is heavily implied to have Asperger's Syndrome, but her social awkwardness, blunt manner and poor empathy don't really impede her from being a very good detective.
  • The Unusuals (as its name implies) features a whole bunch of quirky detectives, but the two who deserve special mention are Banks and Delahoy, who are partners:
    • Banks, whose father, grandfather, and uncle all died at the age of 42, has himself just turned 42. He wears a bulletproof vest everywhere he goes (including to bed) and has basically idiot-proofed his entire apartment. He sometimes has panic attacks when he thinks he's going into a dangerous situation.
    • Delahoy, who has been diagnosed with a potentially-fatal brain tumor, is a Death Seeker who suffers from visual and auditory hallucinations. Sometimes, he receives messages from fortune cookies that help him crack his latest case.
  • Waking the Dead: Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd, who believes that every problem can be solved by just shouting loudly enough. Violence prone, estranged from his son, and occasionally everyone else. Story arc in which he undergoes anger management therapy has somewhat predictable results.
  • DI Chandler from Whitechapel (TV Series) has OCD. Normally it manifests itself in a need to have everything neat and orderly (to the point where he makes sure clean clothes and soap are near at hand), but the stress of the job can have Chandler going into a full-blown breakdown. He's been shown stuck in his office going through a counting compulsion, repeatedly turning the lights on and off in a sequence as his panic increases because he knows he has to stop and leave but he compulsion prevents him from doing so.
  • Many of the police characters in The Wire are flawed to some degree:
    • Bunk Moreland is a pretty competent by-the-book detective, but does have problems staying faithful to his wife.
    • Cedric Daniels is fairly competent, but has a past corruption allegation from his time in the Eastern District hanging over him.
    • Jimmy McNulty is shown to be a supremely talented detective, but is also a foul-mouthed, alcoholic, arrogant, self-loathing womanizer who has a tendency to give a fuck when it ain't his turn to give a fuck. It's repeatedly shown that he has little-to-no life outside of detective work, and only shines as a person when he briefly demotes himself down to a beat cop.
  • Tony Hill of Wire in the Blood is very socially awkward and eccentric, prone to getting lost in his own tangents and neglecting practical matters. The fact that he's better at relating to the serial killers he profiles than to normal people has surely been lampshaded more than once.

  • Arthur Lester from Malevolent is, or well was, a Private Investigator, and while he seems to be in an emotionally and mentally healthy place when the story starts, he first became a P.I. after having lost his daughter to his own negligence, and had apparently spent several years drinking heavily every night. Of course, as the series progresses he is deeply impacted by the horrors he has faced, and it shows.

    Video Games 
  • The game "Defective" from the IGN Pirate Kart is about this trope. The player takes the role of a detective shooting people, and then has to navigate through pools of imagined blood.
  • The protagonist of 1997 Blade Runner video game, Ray McCoy, often seems a little bit dim and sometimes overly impressionable.
  • Lieutenant Hank Anderson from Detroit: Become Human has a decorated past as the Detroit PD's most competent detective, but a tragic occurrence in his personal life turned him into a bitter, poorly groomed, and heavy-drinking shell of his former self with a terrible disciplinary record to match. Whether he comes to terms with his trauma or lets it destroy him depends on how Connor, the android assigned as his partner in the deviant investigation, acts in his presence.
  • The protagonist of Disco Elysium is a detective who has developed a severe case of retrograde amnesia after an incredibly wild drinking binge. And that's not to mention the fact that the various in-game skills take the form of voices in his head giving him guidance of varying usefulness. The player, however, has the option to do their damnest to eschew this, by choosing to play as The Boring Cop archetype, which means trying to be as a straight-laced Consummate Professional as possible and ignoring the wackier dialogue choices and actions. The description for its associated thought, Regular Law Official, notes that this can't come naturally for someone with your colourful past and current looks. Either way, the player character has truly impressive skills — varying depending on how he's built — that can be pulled out of his alcohol-sodden brain. However, no matter how you play the character, you will have severe issues with drugs, mental illness, relationships or some combination thereof.
    • If you manage to unravel your past it turns out you were always this way. While you have 18 years of honorable service, during which you solved 216 cases while only killing three people in the line of duty (a number commented on as extremely low, given that most of your time on the force was spent working in the most violent and crime-ridden precinct in the city), and turned down promotion to captain twice because it would mean leaving the streets, you were also a barely Functional Addict who worked in bouts of productivity between binges and displayed several signs of deteriorating mental health exacerbated by your divorce, and only managed to stay on the force because you were a genius when you were sober. When you start hearing rumors that you are a Dirty Cop who moonlights as a hitman for the crime boss known as La Puta Madre, your partner brushes those rumors aside, saying you were never stable enough to pull off something like that.
  • Heavy Rain: Norman Jayden is an FBI Agent with a serious drug problem (which it's implied he only developed in the first place because the drugs in question were to meant to counteract the effects of the virtual reality system he makes use of on the job). Scott Shelby, who's a more conventional noir Private Detective, doesn't have any obvious issues, but he does lead a pretty solitary and occasionally violent life. Oh, and he's also the Serial Killer who Jayden and everyone else is trying to catch.
  • Master Detective Archives: Rain Code: The titular detectives are all incapable of doing anything responsibly and have personal issues that make them do morally questionable things, with even the protagonist himself being unable to accept his own role as a detective. Despite being titled "master", they're seemingly only considered such because of their possession of Forensic Fortes than actually being competent regarding their job.
  • DEA agent and former NYPD detective Max Payne is highly competent at investigating and unraveling conspiracies and gunning down any mooks in his way all the while, but his inability to protect his friends and loved ones time and time again has left him a self-deprecating wreck filled with Survivor's Guilt. It eventually becomes too much for him, and come the third game, he's resorted to heavy drinking to deal with the pain that comes with losing as much as he did.
  • Persona:
    • Persona 4 has Naoto Shirogane (at least pre-Character Development). Despite the impressive-sounding title of "Detective Prince", she's not that popular when she first comes to Inaba; the police look down on her for being a Kid Detective, and her attempts to overcompensate for this cause a lot of friction with her peers. Her parents died in a car crash when she was young, and she doubts she can live up to the family's reputation as detectives — particularly because of her gender issues — so she's a perfectionist with serious self-doubt issues. There's also the protagonist's uncle Dojima, who's inability to give up the chase for his wife's killer causes a major strain on his relationship with his daughter, and his partner Adachi, who is the department's Butt-Monkey and a major screw-up. Taken even further with Adachi when he turns out to be the villain, an Ax-Crazy misanthrope who killed two women for (in his mind) being whores, used his goofy veneer to trick another man into almost murdering several people, and was willing to let the world end basically because he thought he deserved a better lot in life.
    • Unsurprisingly, given that he's hailed as the Second Detective Prince, Goro Akechi from Persona 5 has shades of this as well. He's much more charismatic than Naoto, but is actually a Stepford Smiler obsessed with making himself popular due to his childhood: born out of wedlock — something that's majorly looked down upon in Japan — he was passed around a series of abusive foster homes after his mother committed suicide out of shame (at one point he thinks to himself that his fans would surely turn on him if they knew he was an 'unwanted child', showing he has trust issues as well). Like Adachi, he's eventually revealed to be an antagonist, albeit a more tragic one — his father is the Big Bad, and used Akechi's desire for status and revenge to turn him into a hitman in middle school. Akechi's title is almost entirely a farce, built on solving mental breakdowns he caused himself, and his father knew all along that he was planning to stab him in the back.
  • Schizo-Phrenzy, a platform game, has the lead private inspector chase after a masked baby... while avoiding monsters that randomly appear.
  • Suikoden V's Oboro apparently has a Guilt Complex the size of a small planet regarding all the underhanded crap he had a hand in as Nether Gate's intelligence director, and it's heavily implied one of the reasons he hasn't chosen Redemption Equals Death is his desire to help those who've been scarred (mentally and physically) by his from his former organization. It's also more openly made aware that Fuyo, Sagiri, and Shigure double as his Morality Chain, and a living reminder of his guilt in the case of the latter two.
  • Tekken: As of Tekken 4, detective Lei Wulong's girlfriend broke up with him because he'd rather solve cases rather than spend time with her. Considering he's not found another girl even until Tekken 6, he likely is still a huge workaholic. (Note that every time Lei enters a Tekken tournament, it's always because of a case he's on at that time.)

    Visual Novels 

  • Dr. Frost: The titular Frost himself. Although he's not a true detective, this still applies to him. While his inability to emphasize with others helps him to solve cases, it's also shown that it places him into just as much trouble as it does help, particularly through miscommunication.
  • Ivo Sharktooth from Girl Genius. His main problem is that, being a Jägermonster, he is terrible at being an actual detective. His main talent appears to be an uncanny ability to be exactly in the right spot for Chandler's Law to kick in and someone getting assassinated in front of his eyes for knowing too much. How far Ivo is into an 'investigation' can be linearly plotted next to how many people currently want him dead. It may be worth considering that Ivo Sharktooth isn't a private detective — but rather, a private Jäger.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Cool McCool is like Maxwell Smart, only stupider.
  • Hong Kong Phooey. How everybody, even the crooks, take this buffoon as a champion is mind-boggling.
  • Inch High, Private Eye somehow manages to solve his cases. Though his niece, her friend, and her dog help.
  • Detective Damien Darkblood from Invincible (2021) is a flesh and blood demon who has been to hell and back, and claims to help others to save his own soul. Most characters find him aloof and difficult to converse with, he's been discredited—and then vindicated—several times before, and a news article even refers to him as a "defective [demon] detective".
  • Tom Of T.H.U.M.B. was a segment of the 1966 King Kong cartoon. He started out as a janitor and for some reason became a secret agent after getting hit by a shrink ray.