Defective Detective

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Daniel Lewis: You're talking to yourself, Michael.
Michael Raines: Dan, um, I appreciate the concern, but do you ever think that was maybe just my hook?
Daniel Lewis: Your hook?
Michael Raines: Yeah. I'm a, uh, a crazy detective. Look out, he's nuts! Wheee!

Raines, "Meet Juan Doe"

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 anti-social or personality disorders. The hard-working ones are workaholics who let their family relationship 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.

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.

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

Examples of Defective Detective include:

Anime and Manga

  • 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.
  • Ken Edmundo in Heat Guy J.
  • Monster: Heinrich Lunge's obsession with Kenzo Tenma verges on psychosis and ruins both his personal and professional life, Richard Braun is 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).

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 Dinniverse as well. A villain attempts 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 The Dark Knight Returns). Prior to that, Bruce Wayne was his "real" identity.
  • 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.
  • Sam and Max Freelance Police: One of the many detective conventions parodied. Both are totally insane, but as a Heroic Comedic Sociopath team rather than actually dysfunctional. That said, they'll sometimes dip into this reasoning to justify their ridiculous actions.


  • 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.
  • 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!
  • The Gauntlet: Ben Shockley is a heavy drinking cop from Phoenix assigned to Las Vegas to escort witness Gus Malley.
  • 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.
  • Eddie Valiant In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. He is a Toon detective who not only has an alcohol problem, but also has trouble with his relationship and is traumatized by his brother's death.
  • David Toschi In Zodiac. He is fairly competent detective despite his talent for self-promotion and unhealthy obsession with Animal Crackers.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, completely high on alcohol. (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.
    • Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson is a grand subversion. He's walking perfection scented by soap. Yet everyone still likes him. He's got loving adoptive parents, an alternative but healthy relationship with his girlfriend Angua, and helps keep relative order in Ankh-Morpork by the power of his sheer Carrot-ness.
  • The Dresden Files: 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.
    • Harry also develops severe pyrophobia after a close-range encounter with a flamethrower. In the following books, a lot of bad guys suddenly start using fire-based attacks. In Turn Coat, his encounter with an Eldritch Abomination incapacitates him completely whenever he so much as remembers bits of it. Jim Butcher does love to torture Harry.
  • Douglas Adam's Dirk Gently is a highly competent detective who can piece together the most bizarre cases thanks to his holistic approach (as advertized 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.
    • It's also implied 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.
  • 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 1980's. 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.
  • 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 Robinson's most recent novel, his daughter got involved with a very bad boy who abused her and involved her in criminal activities.
  • Caroline and Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge, a shell-shocked WWI veteran who constantly hallucinates the ghost of a soldier he had to execute.
  • 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.
  • 'The Little Sleep: Mark Genevich is narcoleptic and sometimes has hypnogogic hallucinations. Which is just a tiny bit inconvenient for a P.I.
  • 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).
  • The Millennium Trilogy features Lisbeth Salander. An introverted and asocial woman who has a traumatic childhood.
  • 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.
  • 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), 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.
  • Many members of Michael Slade's Special X, the fictional RCMP homicide unit from the series, 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.
  • 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 an poor early draft of another Fforde novel.
  • 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

  • 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 her childhood with her parent's disappearance.
  • 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.
  • Criminal Minds: Most of the recurring characters are 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 sometimes proven wrong half a season later.
    • Ever since JJ became a full-time profiler in season seven, she now fits the 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:
    • Grissom is socially awkward and gets in trouble because he doesn't play the politics game.
    • Sara's laundry list of issues only start with having witnessed her mother kill her abusive father when she was young and worry from then on whether murder is a genetic trait.
    • Catherine divorced her husband and work keeps her from spending enough time with her daughter, and her father may be connected to the mob but no one can prove he's done anything.
    • Warrick 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.
    • Brass has an estranged daughter and left his old job in New Jersey because he couldn't be bought.
    • Nick was abused by his babysitter when he was nine and has an issue with closed spaces after the "Grave Danger" episodes.
    • Greg was traumatized after the explosion in the lab and later the entire "Fannysmacking" story-line.
  • CSI: Miami: Horatio Caine's mother and wife were murdered.
  • Mac Taylor of CSI: NY lost his wife to 9/11.
  • 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.
  • Frank Pembleton and Tim Bayliss on Homicide: Life on the Street 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.
  • Ironside. The title is a reference to his wheelchair.
  • The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: The duo of DI Thomas Lynley and DS Barbara Havers. One is a workaholic with a personal life worthy of a soap opera; the other 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 of them. And it is beautiful.
  • Michael Jericho of "Jericho of Scotland Yard" embodies this trope: His 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.
  • Subverted to some extent with Jonathan Creek, who is often seen as weird and out-of-touch by his sidekick, but usually deals with life a lot better than they do.
  • Several in the Law and Order franchise:
    • Law and 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 and 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.
    • Law and 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.
  • 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 a detective with obsessive–compulsive disorder. (Occasionally other characters and the promos even call him "the Defective Detective"). In the Russian dub, the show is aptly-named The Defective Detective.
    • To a lesser extent, Captain Stottlemeyer, who has two failed marriages, and whose next serious girlfriend turns out to be a murderer (caught by Monk, of course.)
    • In the novel Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu, Lee Goldberg takes this Up to Eleven by having 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.
  • 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.
  • Austin James in Probe is a genius in the Sherlock Holmes mold, and also socially awkward, callous, and, by self-admission, mildly schizophrenic.
  • 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 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 an embarrassment to his father at the same time. (The show is in some sense a delayed Coming of Age Story.)
  • 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.
  • The American version of Touching Evil starred a police officer who'd lost most of his impulse control after a gunshot-induced brain injury.
  • 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.
  • Jimmy McNulty of The Wire is shown to be a supremely talented detective, but is also a foul-mouthed, alcoholic, arrogant, self-loathing womanizer who's tends to abuse his authority on a regular basis (as Bunk Moreland put it, "giving a fuck when it ain't your 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 takes a leave of absence from detective work as a patrolman in the Western District.
  • 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.

Video Games

  • The game "Defective" from the IGN Pirate Kart is about a detective who spends his time shooting people, and navigating through pools of imagined blood.
  • Max Payne. Yes. Yes that's what the title character has.
  • Suikoden V's Oboro apparently has a Guilt Complex the size of a small planet regarding all the underhanded, psychopathic level 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 pretty much double as his Morality Chain, and a living reminder of his guilt in the case of the latter two.
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni: Erika Furudo of has her fair share of screws loose, most of which are attributed to a past incident caused by her detective skills.

Web Original

Western Animation