Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot
Someone investigates a minor crime, or possibly something as major as murder, but finds something much bigger going on behind it. The first crime might be part of a Revealing Coverup, or it might be just a Red Herring. This is extremely common in crime fighting action films where the plot is more about building up a lead in from normal life and confronting the big secret; in other fiction there might be all manner of twists, turns and dead ends before it all links up. This is a staple of the detective variety of Film Noir.
Some of the more complex Xanatos Roulettes may stretch from the most trifling crimes to the mind-bogglingly evil in a mind-bogglingly complex manner.
Works in which several different crimes are committed (e.g. a Police Procedural TV series) sometimes follow the pattern that every Minor Crime reveals a Major Plot - the main characters can't investigate any crime, big or small, without stumbling upon an Evil Plan involving several different people and six- or seven-digit sums of money. This is largely an Acceptable Break From Reality; of course, in Real Life, thousands of crimes are committed each day without any sort of plan or conspiracy behind them - burglars sneak into homes, steal some small cash and sneak out again, people are killed when petty arguments get out of hand, dastardly villains cross streets in illegal ways to get to the other side faster - but it makes for a more interesting story to have your master detectives slowly uncover the villainous plot of a Diabolical Mastermind than to have them book random mugger after random mugger.
Truth in Television. Real Life professional criminals will bend over backwards to make sure they don't trip up over something minor, because it's happened before. The best way to avoid capture is to not attract attention - at all.
As this is a trope about plots, many of the examples will contain spoilers. You have been warned.
Not to be confused with Wanted Meter.
Anime and Manga
- StrikerS Sound Stage X of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha: Murder of various Old Belka researchers -> Terrorist plot to attack Mid-childa with the undead army of a legendary Dark King.
- Detective Conan has the Black Organization. It looked like a simple case of blackmail, but they're actually an elite group of murderers that owns huge biological research facilities.
- Subverted in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, where the murder of a policeman who discovered illegal surveillance devices appears to bring the elite hacker Laughing Man out into the open, but it turns out the guy was an imitator. However, later it's played as straight as a laser: hacker in government-run halfway house --> conspiracy involving Japan's entire military industrial complex. Wall of Text - watch the freakin' anime!
- Paranoia Agent: Who/What is Shonen Bat?
- Happens in 20thCenturyBoys.
- Both Fullmetal Alchemist storylines have at least two points that could be considered either the crime with the warrant that turns out too small or the far more sinister plot. They both go from the Elric brothers' attempt at human transmutation to the murder of Maes Hughes all the way up to outing and defeating an Ancient Conspiracy which may as well be called Amestris' very own Illuminati.
- Chinatown: Who killed Hollis Mulwray?
- L.A. Confidential: What triggered the Night Owl Massacre?
- Cellular starts off as trying to trace a woman who was kidnapped by unknown men but soon found out some of the cops in involved in a greater plot
- Ace Ventura: Pet Detective: Dolphin kidnapping -> murder, kidnapping, and attempted murder of NFL star Dan Marino.
- Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls: Bat kidnapping -> plot to wipe out two indigenous African tribes and seize their land.
- All the Presidents Men: Two investigative reporters look into a minor robbery in hotel Watergate.
- Alien Nation: Murder of a cop during a robbery -> re-introducing a devastating alien drug.
- The Avengers 1998: Sabotage of a weather control project -> holding Britain to ransom with the threat of a weather attack that will destroy London.
- Beverly Hills Cop: Murder of a man in Detroit -> drug smuggling operation in Los Angeles
- Blue Thunder: Murder of a LA city councilwoman -> eliminating political undesirables.
- Cast a Deadly Spell: Theft of a book and killing of the thief -> conspiracy to call Cthulhu to Earth.
- Constantine: Suicide of a woman -> bringing the Devil's son to Earth and creating chaos.
- Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. Death (murder) of Doc's father -> a plot to steal Indian land in Central America that contains a giant pool of gold.
- Dreamscape: Murder of a woman while dreaming -> creating a psychic assassin to kill the President of the United States in his dreams.
- Drop Zone: Skyjacking and kidnapping -> scheme to break into DEA headquarters, steal the names of all DEA undercover agents and sell them to the drug cartels.
- The Golden Child: Kidnapping of a child -> attempt to bring Hell to Earth.
- Hudson Hawk: Theft of several items -> using a gold-making machine to destroy the world's economy.
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension: Theft of the Oscillation Overthruster and kidnapping Penny Priddy -> the Red Lectroids' plot to return to Planet 10 and conquer it, leading to a threat by the Black Lectroids to start World War III.
- Big Trouble in Little China: Kidnapping of a girl with green eyes -> David Lo Pan's plan to rule the universe from beyond the grave.
- A common trope in the James Bond series:
- Dr. No. Murder of a British agent --> Dr. No's SPECTRE operation to destroy American missiles.
- Goldfinger. Cheating at Texas hold'em, murder of Jill Masterson and gold smuggling --> nuking Fort Knox.
- Diamonds Are Forever. Diamond smuggling --> Hold the world for ransom with a laser-armed Kill Sat.
- Live and Let Die. Deaths of three British agents --> massive heroin smuggling operation.
- The Spy Who Loved Me. Disappearing nuclear submarines --> a plot to start a nuclear war between the N.A.T.O. and U.S.S.R.
- Moonraker. Disappearance of a space shuttle --> a plot to kill all humans on Earth.
- In the book, Catching a man cheating at Bridge --> a plot to nuke Britain by an unrepentant Nazi.
- Octopussy. Smuggling stolen Faberge Eggs and murdering a British agent --> nuclear sabotage, wiping out an American military base along with nearby cities and WW 3.
- A View to a Kill. Using steroids in horse races --> destroying Silicon Valley (though these two plot points don't directly connect)
- The Living Daylights. A faked sniping attack on a fleeing general --> attacks on British agents and a weapon smuggling network in the middle of the war between U.S.S.R. and Afghanistan.
- GoldenEye. Theft of a prototype helicopter --> crippling London with an EMP-based Kill Sat to cover up a massive electronic bank robbery.
- Tomorrow Never Dies. An unusually fast newspaper article on a ship sinking --> starting a war to gain exclusive media rights in China.
- The World Is Not Enough. Murder of a prominent businessman --> forcing a nuclear sub into meltdown and contaminating 90% of the world's oil supply.
- Daniel Craig's Bond gets one that spans two movies: elimination of bomber-for-hire --> The Reveal of an NGO Superpower.
- Judge Dredd: Murder of an investigative reporter --> assassination of the Judges' Council and a coup d'etat.
- Dredd: Triple homicide -> a city-spanning drug manufacturing and distribution operation.
- Lethal Weapon: A simple suicide -> a heroin-smuggling operation run by Vietnam War special forces troops.
- Lethal Weapon 2: A traffic stop (of a car with a trunk full of Krugerrands) -> an international drug smuggling conspiracy by South African government officials.
- Lethal Weapon 3: A botched armor truck robbery --> A corrupt officer stealing weapons from impound and selling them on the black market.
- Lethal Weapon 4: A ship full of smuggled Chinese immigrants --> A plot to sneak four Chinese Triad bosses into the country.
- Looker: Murder of female models -> company conspiracy to brainwash customers with subliminal advertising.
- Men in Black: Disappearance of a man after encountering a UFO and a suicide -> theft of a galaxy and possible destruction of the Earth.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: a private eye hired to take some dirty pictures -> the murder of Marvin Acme and R.K. Maroon, probate fraud and the attempted destruction of Toontown and genocide of its residents, the Toons.
- The Fugitive (Movie version). Murder of Kimble's wife -> drug company conspiracy to market a deadly medical drug to an unknowing public.
- Hot Fuzz Series of murders made to look like accidents -> decades-old conspiracy that mercilessly executes anyone who would jeopardize the reputation the village has for serenity and cleanliness. "Have you ever wondered why the murder rate in this town is so low, and yet the accident rate is so high?"
- Soylent Green. Murder of a businessman -> discovering a horrible truth about the entire food supply.
- Star Wars: Attack of the Clones: Assassination attempt on a senator -> A clone army, that no one seems to remember ordering, ready just as the Supreme Chancellor commissions a Grand Army of the Republic to deal with the Separatist Crisis -> (finally discovered in Revenge of the Sith) Plot by the Supreme Chancellor to overthrow the Republic and destroy the Jedi.
- Gone Baby Gone Who kidnapped the little girl? Not who you'd think.
- Vantage Point tries to do this when the first warrant is for "Who shot the President?" Who infiltrated US Intelligence and tried to kidnap the President? is indeed somewhat weightier, //technically//.
- Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow. The kidnapping of some German scientists -> A plot to build a spaceship that will destroy all life on Earth.
- In Like Flint. The President's golf swing taking 3 minutes -> A diabolical plan to take control of the minds of women all over the world and put a nuclear sword of Damocles in orbit around the Earth.
- I Robot Suicide -> Zeroth Law Rebellion
- Changeling. The kidnapping of Walter Collins -> The vast corruption in the LA police department
- Somewhat subverted in Strange Days - the plot looks like it's building into a huge far-reaching conspiracy, but actually a lot of that is just the guy behind the first crime trying to misdirect the hero.
- Star Trek: Insurrection: Data goes berserk on an alien planet -> conspiracy to rob said alien planet of its Phlebotinum -> vengeful genocide of planet's inhabitants.
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: "Your case and my case... are the same fucking case".
- Averted in Pulp Fiction. The Wolf asks Jules and Vincent if there is anything wrong with the car, which they had just cleaned thoroughly, so that if he is pulled over by the police, he knows any problems to talk about - and the police won't have a reason to inspect the vehicle, and find any hint of the body or blood the Jules and Vincent had spent time cleaning.
- The Dresden Files does this almost Once Per Episode.
- Storm Front: Hired to find a woman's missing husband and help the police with a murder -> uncovering a Axe Crazy practitioner of Black Magic.
- Summer Knight: Investigating a suspicious death -> averting a faerie war.
- Death Masks: Recovering a stolen religious artifact -> preventing a souped-up Black Plague.
- Dead Beat: Finding a certain book for a vampire -> preventing some necromancers from saying A God Am I.
- White Night: Investigating the murders of a few low-level witches -> stopping a coup in the White Court.
- Small Favor: Checking out an attack on Marcone -> preventing Ivy from becoming a Denarian.
- Turn Coat: Giving the defamed Morgan asylum -> outing The Mole in the White Council.
- Changes: Saving Harry's daughter from Red Court kidnappers -> Killing the entire Red Court.
- Fatherland: An alternate history in which Germany won WWII and a minor Nazi official discovers the Holocaust.
- In the Lord Peter Wimsey series Murder Must Advertise. Murder of an advertising copywriter -> massive cocaine-smuggling ring.
- The Illuminatus Trilogy starts off with this. Murder of a news columnist -> Wheels within wheels conspiracy for control of Earth, involving rock bands, undead Nazis and Eldritch Abomination(s).
- Origin In Death: Murder of "saintly" doctor -> massive decades-old illegal human-cloning and people-made-to-order operation.
- The Cold War thriller An H-Bomb for Alice by Ian Stewart. A detective investigates the apparent suicide of the Australian Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Although he was about to pass an important bill, there appears to be no motive for murder as no government or mining interests are threatened by it. It turns out the Soviet Union is planning to invade China, and a hidden strike force is waiting to seize the US surveillance station at Pine Gap which they fear will provide prior warning of the attack. The strike force was operating under the cover of a hippy colony that would have been evicted from Aboriginal land if the bill had been passed.
- Sherlock Holmes stories had a lot of this.
- "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons". A madman is stealing Napoleon busts and smashing them -> The recovery of a stolen pearl.
- "The Blue Carbuncle". Man loses his Christmas dinner -> The recovery of the title stolen gemstone (seriously).
- "The Red-Headed League". Man was member of an exclusive club for only red heads -> A bank heist using underground tunnel.
- "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". A woman gets a too good to be true job offer -> Turns out that she was there to take the place of the daughter of his employer who is imprisoned somewhere in the house.
- Any novel by Jonathan Kellerman.
- In Rainbow Six, the FBI carries out a search for a missing woman, believing it to be part of a kidnapping or serial killing, only to find a plan to wipe out most of humanity.
- Harry Potter. The break-in at Gringotts -> Voldemort attempting to rise back to power.
- Lois McMaster Bujold's Komarr starts with the investigation of a collision between a freighter and an orbital terraforming mirror. It makes a detour to a modest embezzlement scheme before settling on a plot to eliminate the only wormhole link between Barrayar and the rest of the populated galaxy that would actually, due to incomplete analysis of the underlying science, result in the destruction of at least one space station with several thousand residents and transients aboard.
- In the Greg Egan novel Quarantine, an investigation into the disappearance of a severely developmentally delayed woman from a care home eventually reveals a plot to radically alter the nature of reality at a quantum level.
- Discworld City Watch novels:
- Men At Arms: A break-in at the Assassins' Guild -> a plot to overthrow the Patrician.
- The Fifth Elephant: The murder of a rubber goods manufacturer and the theft of a replica Scone of Stone -> a plot to overthrow the Low King of the Dwarfs.
- Thud: The murder of a rabble-rousing dwarf, and the theft of a painting -> a plot to prevent peace between dwarfs and trolls by obfuscating their shared history.
- The Barsoom Project: Electronic tampering with a high-tech LARP -> multiple acts of lethal sabotage in support of covert corporate takeover scheme
Live Action TV
- This appears to have been the case for Beckett's mother's murder in Castle. Decade-old murder of a lawyer -> wide-ranging corruption and conspiracy, the full extent of which has yet to be revealed.
- Also, murder of a taxi driver -> plot to detonate a dirty bomb in New York.
- State of Play starts off with a murder, an affair and a suicide which are all investigated by the newspaper who find that they are all related to a much larger government conspiracy.
- Several Leverage episodes do this, albeit on a smaller scale than a lot of the examples:
- "The Homecoming Job". Coverup of a friendly fire investigation -> multi-billion-dollar money-laundering scheme.
- "The Snow Job". Negligent home contracting job -> nationwide foreclosure-related fraud.
- "The Stork Job". Spanish Prisoner scam with orphans -> weapons smuggling.
- "The Gone-Fishin' Job". People being scammed by fake IRS agents -> anti-government militia planning a terrorist attack
- Weeds subverts the hell out of this early in the third season. The second season Cliff Hanger ends with Silas arrested for petty vandalism with a trunk full of marijuana Celia drives away in his car before the cop sees it, and a few episodes later a DEA agent shows up at the Botwins' door while they're bagging product and never gets in the door so he doesn't notice it.
- Also played straight at the end of the third season stolen cross -> new grow house.
- Twin Peaks: The murder of a teenage girl -> otherdimensional demonic conspiracy
to confuse the audience.
- The Wire: Season Two: Warfie with suspicious amounts of money buys a stained window for a church -> bulk smuggling of drugs, prostitutes and goods; multiple ethnic gangs, murders agogo.
- This has happened frequently on CSI: Miami.
- This seems to be the point of the Buddy Cop Show, The Good Guys. An old Noble Bigot with a Badge Cowboy Cop is paired with a young By-The-Book Cop and sent to investigate minor crimes (vandalism, shoplifting, etc.) to keep them out of trouble, but the duo almost always stumble across something much bigger (drug smugglers, car theft ring, etc.)
- Pretty much every Myth Arc episode of The X-Files, and several Monster of the Week ones as well.
- The Shadow Line: The death of a drug baron --> A Government Conspiracy using drug money to fund police pensions.]]
- Criminal Minds: DEA raid on a suspected meth lab --> an impending terrorist attack using nerve gas.
- Starsky and Hutch does this almost every episode.
- Bones: A recovered skull --> A cannibalistic serial killer who ends up recruiting Zack as his apprentice.
- Happened on occasion in Due South. One notable example was Frasier and Vecchio stopping to ticket a man who had parked in a fire lane, only to discover the guy's trunk was full of illegal firearms.
- One Shadowrun supplement, about Lone Star Security, mentions how police in the Robbery division often wind up investigating major crimes: ones that'd started out looking like a simple robbery due to cover-up efforts by the perpetrators.
- Max Payne: Murder of Alex Balder -> Massive government conspiracy involving a failed attempt to create a Super Serum for the military which Max's family was killed to protect.
- Baldur's Gate: An Iron shortage due to bandit attacks -> plot to spark a war between Baldur's Gate and Amn. Attempted assassination of some nobody orphan -> resurrection/replacement of a dead god.
- Happens on occasion in the Ace Attorney series. The last case of the third game is probably the biggest example: the murder of a children's book author is ultimately tied into a gigantic revenge scheme.
- Investigations: Seemingly disconnected murders of a police officer, a plane flight passenger, a prosecutor and a defendant -> An international smuggling ring.
- In the second case of the first game, trying to solve the murder of your mentor leads to you discovering a massive blackmail chain.
- In Police Quest 3, the endgame involves the investigation of a house linked to a series of murders. When it turns out that the place is fortified, the player must go back to the courthouse and get authorization to use the departmental battering ram, which uncovers a cocaine manufacturing ring.
- Mass Effect: An unprovoked attack on a human colony -> The destruction of all sentient life by Eldritch Abominations.
- The sequel gives us: Human colonies disappearing -> Creation of an Eldritch Abomination.
- The Arrival DLC has: Admiral Hackett's friend Dr. Kenson has been kidnapped by Batarians -> Eldritch Abominations will arrive and begin the galactic extermination in 2 days.
- This happens in pretty much every game in the Jak and Daxter series:
- In the first game, the quest to change Daxter back to normal resulted in the group stumbling on a plan to flood the world with Dark Eco.
- The second game, in which Jak is out for revenge against Baron Praxis, leads to him saving the city from the Metal Head Leader.
- The third game opens with Jak and Daxter only trying to survive in a harsh new environment, and ends up pitting them against an Omnicidal Maniac working for dark versions of the Precursors.
- In the fourth game, a racing spinoff, Jak and friends are coerced into entering a competition, only to find out they're in the middle of a gang war.
- In the fifth game, an Interquel that focuses on Daxter, he's just trying to make a living and figure out how to rescue Jak, only to to uncover the brewing invasion plot by the Metal Heads.
- In the sixth game, Jak, Daxter and Keira set out to find more eco and restore balance to the world, but things quickly escalate into stopping a power-hungry madman.
- Chrono Trigger: Save the Princess -> Prevent The End of the World as We Know It.
- Daggerfall: Exorcise a walking spirit and deliver a letter -> Shape the future of The Empire.
- Dragon Age 2: Sneak a free Qunari mage out of Kirkwall -> Halt a Chantry plot to spark open conflict between humans and Qunari.
- Humorously played with the Bone Pit mine, going from an invasion of small dragons to a Coterie plot to steal shipments to a High Dragon taking over.
- Touhou 8: Imperishable Night: Bad Moon Rising -> alien conspiracy from the antiquity.
- Your Mileage May Vary but Persona 3 has your team investigating the mystery of the Dark Hour and why your school turns into a freaky tower every night. You end up saving the world
- The standard plot of Tex Murphy games. Tex gets a small, simple gig (find my missing friend) and it turns into a save the world scenario.
- Fallout: New Vegas: Find the man that shot you and stole the package you were supposed to deliver, get said package back, and finish the delivery -> decide which of the factions vying for control of New Vegas and the rest of the Mojave Wasteland emerges triumphant, or make your own power play and take over for yourself.
- American Dad: Parodied, and played straight. Steve does a research project on peanut butter and discovers a secret conspiracy dating back to the days of Abraham Lincoln. The parody occurs earlier in the episode in the form of a Noodle Incident where Snot claims that he gave up sleuthing after 'the case of a missing bike horn turned into a double rape homicide'.
- 1973-74 Superfriends episode "The Planet Splitter". The theft of diamonds weighing 100+ carats -> A plot to split Cygnus Uno, a planet in another solar system.
- Investigation into the disappearance of candy heiress Helen Brach lead to the discovery of a massive, ongoing fraud scheme in the world of horse trading.
- The Cuckoo's Egg tells of how astrophysicist Clifford Stoll was asked to resolve a 75¢ discrepancy in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory computer usage accounts, and ended up uncovering a German computer hacker selling secrets to the KGB.
- A foiled burglary at an upper class hotel uncovered attempts to influence the US election that go right up to the POTUS himself. As well as adding a new suffix to the English language.
- Not exactly the same, but in 1999, a Vietnamese American had police protect his video rental store which was flooded with protesters who didn't like his North Vietnamese flag and picture of Ho Chi Minh. While protecting the store owner from protesters, police discovered the owner's video piracy operations and arrested him.
- Ahem, there not being a North Vietnam around for 25 years at the point already—it was news for them?
- Using that flag is Serious Business for most Vietnamese Americans, who are mostly exiles and refugees from the South and regard the red flag with the yellow star as a usurper's symbol; they tend to hate the current government of Vietnam with all their might and are usually virulent anticommunists. The One True Flag (for them) is the yellow one with three thin red stripes, and to Hell to anyone who displays the other one.
- Ahem, there not being a North Vietnam around for 25 years at the point already—it was news for them?
- The Los Angeles Police Department Rampart Scandal in the late 1990s, which was the inspiration for the movie Training Day and the TV series The Shield, started with the arrest of one police officer for stealing cocaine, and ultimately implicated more than 70 officers in serious misconduct, as well as contributing to the Police Chief, District Attorney, and Mayor of Los Angeles all eventually being not re-appointed or re-elected.
- Initially, the only question people had about Enron was whether its stock was overpriced. People trying to figure that out found themselves in the incomprehensible accounting practices Enron used, which led to more questions and then KABOOM!
- They certainly already knew about the crime, but Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was initially arrested for driving without license plates and (as the officer noticed on pulling him over) having an illegal gun.
- Similarly, 'Son of Sam' David Berkowitz was arrested because his car had received a parking ticket for being parked next to a fire hydrant. When the NYPD as part of its routine legwork checked every parking ticket in the area of and on the night of the most recent 'Son of Sam' killing to see if any of them matched the make, model, and color eyewitnesses reported for the killer's car, they had his name, license plate #, and address right there.
- The Manson family was originally arrested for car theft and it wasn't until one of them bragged to a fellow inmate that they were implicated in the string of high profile murders occurring at the time.
- In December 2011, police were called to a Utah apartment with four male occupants, all over 25 years old. One had been trying to kill a rat by shooting it but inadvertently shot through a wall and hit one of his room mates. This wasn't really against the law as much as it was incredibly stupid. Thing is on a standard "check the place out to ensure this wasn't any sort of foul play", the police found a 13 year old girl hiding in a closet who confessed to having a three-month affair one of the occupants, who was 34 years old. The fourth room mate slept through the whole ordeal.
- Accountants are taught to consider even tiny discrepancies in financial data important, as even the smallest shortfall can be a clue to large-scale embezzlement or fraud.