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Phone-In Detective

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Lassiter: Well, pardon me if I'm just a little skeptical. Believable, as it is, that you solved all these crimes... I'm sorry, what was it? Watching the local Channel 8 News reports.
Shawn: I confess. That's not true. Sometimes I watch Channel 5. I prefer Channel 8. The weather girl? Adorable.
Psych, "Pilot"

You have an Amateur Sleuth or an exotic detective. And to prove just how smart he is, not only can he solve any case just by scanning the crime scene, he can also solve crimes without ever having to visit the scene. The Phone-In Detective is the detective who is able to do some of his sleuthing over the phone due to being away for some reason. Full time Phone-In Detectives are rare, often the detectives will only have to phone in very few of their cases their whole life and will only do so for special cases. It is not completely necessary for any phones to be involved, however, the detective might get the information from telegrams, newspapers, e-mail, or regular reports from The Watson or the police.

Will sometimes be the only interaction the lead has in a Lower-Deck Episode.

Not to be confused with detectives who are "phoning it in," i.e. doing an incredibly lazy half-assed job.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the manga for Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, Police Chief Chase Clink is known as the "Armchair Detective" after catching the man responsible for bombing the Giant Christmas Tree without even leaving his office.
  • Case Closed: By using his voice changer, Conan has had "Shinichi" (i.e. himself) solve cases over long distances; his father has also solved cases by reading/watching the news, and when his mother repeated his deductions on TV (without divulging where she got the information), she was the one given credit when the cases eventually broke the way she "predicted".
  • Death Note: L has been in hiding his entire career, and communicates via phone, computer and his intermediary Watari, emerging only on special occasions for particularly complex crimes or particularly helpful assistants.
  • Victorique from Gosick isn't allowed to leave the Academy until later in the story, so she often solves crimes based on descriptions of the circumstances given to her by witnesses.
  • Remote was about such a detective—he'd developed agoraphobia, so was assigned a young policewoman with a two-way radio who did the leg work.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Bone Collector: Quadriplegic forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme uses police officer Amelia Donaghy as his eyes and ears to catch a serial killer.
  • In Copycat, Dr. Helen Hudson is a respected field expert on serial killers who has become an agoraphobic shut-in after being attacked by serial killer Daryll Lee Callum. When a new series of murders spread fear and panic across San Francisco, Inspector M.J. Monahan and her partner Reuben Goetz solicit Helen's expertise. Initially reluctant, Helen soon finds herself drawn into the warped perpetrator's game of wits.
  • At the end of A Haunting in Venice, Hercule Poirot is able to solve a client's case of his family's supposed "haunted" state that has killed his parents and brother, based on the client's description of the facts - the murderer is the family's doctor, who stands to inherit the family fortune if everyone dies.
  • R.O.T.O.R.. 75% of Detective Coldyron's scenes involve him being on the phone with another character. Often, after he hangs up on one character, he goes ahead and dials another immediately.
  • Early in Sherlock Holmes (2009), the titular character hasn't left the flat for months after capturing Lord Blackwood having no interesting cases. Watson tries to get him interested in some cases, only for Holmes to brush him off having already solved them with the information in the letters alone.

  • Parodied in The Areas of My Expertise with a detective who never leaves his bathtub.
  • Asimovs Mysteries: This anthology has all four stories featuring Wendell Urth, a detective so afraid of travelling that he worked almost entirely from home. The only other place he goes regularly is his university office, a nice short walk away. Officers have to get special permission to bring a suspect to Urth in "The Singing Bell".
  • Black Widowers: "Northwestward", where the only information that the Black Widowers have is what Mr Wayne is able to convey about the mystery. This is quite enough for Henry to solve the problem. Other Black Widowers stories generally work in a similar manner, with Henry solving the mystery based on what the guest explains after dinner.
  • Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin solved The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt by reading newspaper accounts.
  • The Argentine detective Don Isidro Parodi, created by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares under the pen name H. Bustos Domecq, is a man unjustly imprisoned whom friends (and friends of friends) come visit at his cell with stories about mysteries and crimes, which he never fails to solve just by listening to their reports. Don Isidro Parodi is a Deconstructive Parody of this (and many others mysteries) tropes combined with a juvenalian Satire of Argentinean society: All the "friends" who consult him are truly Jerkasses whom could not care less about Parodi's Miscarriage of Justice being falsely accused and judged by a Kangaroo Court only to save a Sleazy Politician mook (Truth in Television in all Latin America). It's implied that all the consultants have enough intellect to discover the crime for themselves, but they can't because they are Hypocrites who don't want to face the truth about themselves. One of the consultants lampshades that an imprisoned man could not be the right person to solve crimes, only to immediately explain Parodi his case. One third of the cases Parodi gets the consultants try to make him his Detective Patsy, no one pays him or tries to Clear His Name, and given his situation as everyone's Butt-Monkey, the only triumphs he has is to be the Doomed Moral Victor and tries to make things For Happiness.
  • Encyclopedia Brown sometimes, especially when solving cases for his father over dinner; Chief Brown relates everything he has on the case,note  and Encyclopedia comes up with the solution before dessert. In a couple cases, Encyclopedia eats slowly to buy himself time to figure out the case.
  • Hercule Poirot is a psychological detective who doesn't bother with searching for physical evidences and running around looking for clues. Occasionally, he would use only the testimonies and written eyewitness accounts of the case to reconstruct the whole truth behind it
    • In Three Act Tragedy, Poirot comes in late in the story, and by the time he becomes involved, most of the bulk investigation has been completed by the Amateur Sleuths. Poirot would remain in the background throughout the entire case, while the other three reported the results of their investigations to him.
    • In The Clocks, Poirot is retired and does not partake in the actual investigation. Instead, his friend Colin gave him his written account of the case, and the interrogation that has occurred. Poirot used this account to solve the mystery without having to set foot on the crime scene or even saying a single word to any of the suspects.
    • Poirot had once solved a crime without leaving his room for a bet. No phone was involved though, he just asked for police reports (and used his friend Hastings to run errands). On another occasion he was in bed with flu, and contacted Hastings at the scene via telegram.
  • The narrator of If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch is seemingly in a coma, but is actually conscious and trying to work out Who Dunnit To Me based on his recollection of events and the conversations at his bedside.
  • Lester Leith reads the newspapers, looking for clues about high-profile crimes that he can solve in order to steal the loot. In "Cold Clews," Leith mocks how the police can't solve the crimes with the same facts that he has. His valet (an undercover cop) argues that Leith can pick and choose which cases he takes while the police have to take everything that comes their way without delay and handle loads of cases at once. Leith reluctantly concedes the point, only to be given a chance to solve a case that he hasn't read about in the papers, which he successfully does
  • In the Lincoln Rhyme novels by Jeffrey Deaver, as in the film adaptaton, Rhyme is a quadriplegic former crime scene investigator, who solves crimes based on information Officer Amelia Sachs supplies him with.
  • Nero Wolfe has an Expy in the Lord Darcy stories: Darcy's cousin the Marquis of London. As brilliant a mind as Darcy, but lazy (and cheap). So much so that he once had Darcy's assistant Master Sean arrested for murder so Darcy would be forced to solve the crime in order to prove his innocence. Darcy countered by proving that the most likely suspect was Lord Bontriomphe, the Marquis's personal assistant (the Goodwin expy).
  • Miss Marple tends to remain in the background pottering around her little cottage or the village of St. Mary Mead while other characters do the bulk of the investigating work, and then pieces together the solution based on the details they bring to her.
  • In "Mr Strang Accepts a Challenge" by Bill Brittain, Brittain's logic teacher detective solves a six-month-old crime without leaving the classroom, to demonstrate the practical uses of logic to his students.
  • Nero Wolfe who rarely left his brownstone, having Archie Goodwin act as his leg man and collect all the information he needed to solve the crime.
  • The Old Man in the Corner stories by the Baroness Orczy, creator of The Scarlet Pimpernel. A classic armchair detective, the Old Man relies mostly upon sensationalistic "penny dreadful" newspaper accounts, with the occasional courtroom visit. He narrates all this information, while tying complicated knots in a piece of string, to a female Journalist who frequents the same tea-shop (the ABC Teashop on the corner of Norfolk Street and the Strand). They enjoy an antagonistic relationship, as the Journalist attempts to cut the Old Man's ego down to size and the Old Man trumps her every time.
  • In Christopher Reid's sequel to T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, Old Toffer's Book of Consequential Dogs, Dobson the Dog Detective used to be an eager young police dog, but now spends most of the time seemingly dozing in his basket ... until he suddenly looks up and announces he's solved the case.
  • Penelope Peters in the short stories "Death Rides the Elevator" and "Murder in Monkeyland" by Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg is a severe agoraphobic who not only can't leave her house, but can't be in a room with windows. Like Nero Wolfe, she has an assistant to act as her legman, unlike Archie Goodwin, his job is simplified by it being the turn of the millennium, so he can contact her with his cellphone while in the middle of an investigation.
  • In The Roman Mysteries, Kid Detective Flavia solves several mysteries this way in some of the short stories, though in the regular novels she generally investigates mysteries on the scene.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • Mycroft Holmes, though even more gifted than his brother in observation and deduction, "has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble of proving himself right."
    • Also Sherlock's primary MO for the majority of his 'Consulting Detective' commissions: the reader generally only hears about the ones interesting enough for him to bestir himself, but many stories open with Holmes ranting about how the lack of decent crime has once again reduced him to pathetic challenges he can resolve from his armchair.
  • Agatha Christie had Tommy and Tuppence solve one case in the newspaper-reading style of the Old Man in the Corner in Partners in Crime.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Criminal Minds:
    • The show makes frequent references to the team consulting on cases. They receive the case information, crime scene photos and such, and put together a profile based on that without ever leaving Quantico (which is more in line with the real life BAU). Though in this case, they don't tend to actually find the perpetrator themselves; they just point the local authorities in the right direction. Since that's not very interesting to watch, the series focuses on the many cases where they actually go out into the field and take an active part in the investigation.
    • In one episode, Blake and Reid are able to solve a decades-old rape case just by reading through the victim's statement. Basically, she mixed over-selling and under-selling the experience and mentions that he "started to" take her clothes off without mentioning him finishing it, leading them to realize that she was lying about the whole thing. (Because a traumatized teenage girl who's afraid of incriminating her powerful boyfriend would never be in a confused emotional state when talking to the police immediately after it happened....)
  • House, the medical detective, once had to solve a case through the phone while at the airport. Another case was solved over a webcam since the patient was stuck in Antarctica. Even in normal circumstances, he often can't be bothered to talk to the patient, and phones in a diagnosis via his underlings.
  • Death in Paradise: In "An Unhelpful Aid", DI Poole is able to solve a murder while lying delirious in his sickbed, being fed information by Dwayne and Fidel.
  • Arkady Balagan in Endgame suffers from agoraphobia, and refuses to leave his hotel. So he has Sam, and various hotel staff members, do his legwork for him.
  • Father Brown: In "The Daughters of Jerusalem", Father Brown is laid up with a broken leg. He solves a series of murders from his bedroom with Mrs McCarthy, Lady Felecia and Sid doing his legwork for him.
  • J.L. "Fatman" McCabe of Jake and the Fatman would send investigator Jake Styles out to do his legwork for him. (He was played by William Conrad, who has also played Nero Wolfe on TV.)
  • Kazahaya Kyoko from the Japanese drama Keishichou Nasi Goreng-ka despises legwork and solves cases from crime scene recordings and news reports. Averted in her cameo on Cabasuka Gakuen.
  • Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector is another adaptation of Jeffrey Deaver's quadriplegic detective.
  • The title character of the ITV series The Man In Room 17 was a sociologist who consulted on difficult police cases and solved them without ever leaving his office.
  • Patrick Jane of The Mentalist once spent most of an episode in prison and still solved the case. One memorable trick: knowing Rigsby was on his way to interview a suspect, Jane phoned the suspect using Rigsby's name and insulted him, provoking the suspect to attack Rigsby and get himself arrested... and put in the same prison as Jane, who could then talk to him in person.
  • Monk:
    • Adrian solves a hit and run by reading a newspaper. Then he solves a murder in France that was reported in the same newspaper and phones the French police department about his revelation.
    • In "Mr. Monk Stays in Bed" he connects a judge-murder the police are trying to solve with a pizza-guy-murder Natalie is digging into while sick in bed with a cold and trying to ignore both Natalie and Stottlemeyer.
    • In direct parallel with Sherlock Holmes, we have Adrian's much smarter brother Ambrose, who never leaves his house. Unlike Mycroft's laziness, Ambrose is severely agoraphobic.
    • In Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse: Monk solves almost a dozen open cases just by glancing at the files on Disher's desk.
      Monk: (pointing from file to file) Definitely the mother-in-law. It's a no-brainer. The twin brother. The shoe-shine man. The bike messenger. The beekeeper, the long-lost aunt, and the podiatrist. You dropped a file. The nearsighted jogger. He couldn't possibly have seen the woman in the window. He wasn't wearing his glasses.
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries Musical Episode, Murdoch manages to solve the mystery of who shot him while in a coma, based on his photographic recollection of the scene and conversations over his bedside (which his healing brain interpretes as singing). As he wanders his mental Toronto, he does wonder what purpose solving the crime serves if he can't wake up to tell anyone about it.
  • Psych: Shawn began his crime-solving career by reporting anonymous tips to the police through the phone based off observations he made watching news reports.
  • An extreme case in Quincy, M.E. where not only was our hero in a hospital bed but a coma. Done by his friends asking themselves "what would Quincy do?", with some of their answers verging on telepathy.
  • Sherlock: Holmes, during "A Scandal in Belgravia", solved a case via webcam, which gave him a few quick glances at the crime scene. While wearing nothing but a bedsheet.
    Irene Adler: You got all that from one look? Definitely the new sexy.
    • When he meets Mycroft at the Buckingham Palace, Mycroft tells him that he glanced at the case file and tells Holmes that the solution is obvious.
    • In "The Empty Hearse", there's a montage of Sherlock solving cases in the initial interview, including the Sherlock counterpart to "A Case of Identity".
  • In an episode of Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, Sen was able to solve the mystery via the others describing the room they were in even though he was miles away (and in the villain's Death Trap.)

    Visual Novels 
  • Kyouko Kirigiri in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc solves the bulk of the third case after hearing about it once, in which she'd mysteriously disappeared for the entire incident. She looked like she was going to pull off the same in the fifth trial, but that was a Hopeless Boss Fight in which none of the students had the information necessary to make it solvable.
    • In Kyouko's tie-in novel, Danganronpa Kirigiri, she hears about one such detective who has a reputation for this, and notes that he's fairly reckless. Yui Samidare, Kyouko's detective partner, chides her and says she should respect her superiors in the field.

  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • In-universe, the long-running Othlin TV series Murderfinder and Meat Puppet, whose essential gimmick involves a brilliant detective with a dangerously compromised immune system who serves as a Phone-In Detective to a low-level cop on the street — although she gives him so much direction she might as well be called Mission Control.
    • Telepresence rigs are common for a variety of purposes, from doing dangerous experiments to police work. Apparently the fact that Murderfinder is unable to use a standard telepresence rig due to a complication with her disease pushes the already improbable premise straight into ridiculous.

    Real Life 
  • British computing lore tells of an engineer who, back in the days of massive mainframe computer setups, could diagnose which modules would need to be repaired just by listening to a description of the symptoms (as opposed to the usual technique, which was basically trial and error). Having discerned the problem in this way, he would head out to the installation site, unfold a big diagram of the hardware, and toss chicken bones over them like a fortune teller. Invariably, to the confusion of the customers, the bones knew which parts to replace...
  • There are people out in the world who have gotten so experienced with fixing cars that they can diagnose mechanical issues based on the make/model, brief description of the symptoms, and a short video with sound. Car Talk, for example, made a long-running radio show out of this - hosts Ray and Tom Magliozzi could diagnose car troubles from the descriptions their callers provided.

Alternative Title(s): Armchair Detective