Occult Detective

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Harry Dresden at work.
"Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all."

An excerpt from the letters of Dr. A. Normal:

It seems to be, in my compiling this Encyclopaedia of Occultations, I have found that there are a large number of figures throughout history who deemed themselves Occult Detectives. Now, I have no idea if any realize the redundant nature of the term - 'occult' meaning hidden, while to 'detect' means uncover that which is hidden - but that title does seem to have the ring of phantasmagoria about it. In fact, most of the men seemed not to believe in the occult wholeheartedly, but rather to amuse themselves in casting rational explanations for mysterious events. To make this even more amusing, a number of them actually did believe in the occult and this would often lead to quarrels between those who believe and those who did not.
Nevertheless, 'occult detecting' did not attract the most stable of men. Most were either extremely rich and bored or barely sane. Some were scarred physically, while most were scarred mentally. For those not supplied with neverending funds, they took other jobs, such as doctor or reporter, while at the same time keeping their occult detective status. Oftentimes, this led to them being viewed as "freaks". Perhaps relatedly, despite their fervor in the pursuit of the occult these 'detectives' rarely made consistent study and documentation of the phenomena they encountered a priority.
These seekers of mystic truths intrigue me. Perhaps I shall write a book on them one day. However, for now, I shall set aside that and get on with my encyclopedia of eclipses.
Yours truly,
Abigail.
P.S. For some reason, when these occult detectives band together, they appear to have a pithy slogan of some sort.
Examples of Occult Detective include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Dylan Dog
  • Marvel Comics had an entire agency of these in the 1990s series Nightstalkers. It was called Borderline Investigations and was run by Frank Drake, Blade, and Hannibal King.
  • Dr. Occult
  • John Constantine
  • The Phantom Stranger
    • Only occasionally. When the Stranger shows up, odds are good that he's basically acting as Errand Boy of the Gods (well, Lords of Order). He doesn't usually get to do a whole lot of detective work.
  • Hellboy
  • Marvel's Dr. Druid in Warren Ellis' Druid miniseries
  • Cal Macdonald from Steve Niles' Criminal Macabre
  • Ambrose Bierce from the Stanley and His Monster mini-series in The DCU.
    • Who was himself created as a Captain Ersatz version of Constantine, along with others such as Rasputin and Willoughby Kipling; It's since been established that the four of them (Constantine included) pretty much do the eact same sort of work as one another, and Kipling has met and compared notes with Constantine.
  • Dr. Terrence Thirteen, a.k.a. the Ghost-Breaker, in The DCU.
  • Usagi occasionally acts in this capacity, like when he frees the town from a ghost of fallen general... by assisting him in finishing his Seppuku
    • Also, recurring character Sasuke the Demon-Queller, who's much more experienced at this.
  • The characters in Caballistics Inc. probably qualify.
  • Hieronymus Borsch by Danish comic creator Mårdøn Smet is a Funny Animal example - though a decidedly adult one - imagine Disney creators making a comic for Vertigo.
  • Doctor Strange .. sometimes. He has a number of artifacts which make this much easier, particularly the Eye of Agamotto.
  • Sara Pezzini from Witchblade. While she gets to fight against countless demons, monsters and supernatural creatures lurking inside New York, everybody at the NYPD thinks she just happens to be a detective who gets too many weird cases.
  • Hellstorm: Son of Satan.
  • The Goon, although he's more of a thug whose "detective work" usually amounts to "beating information out of zombies and redneck werewolves."


Film[edit | hide]


Literature[edit | hide]

  • An Ur Example Older Than Feudalism is found in Pliny the Younger's "Letter to Sura", about the philosopher Athenodorus investigating a haunted house.
  • Dr. Martin Hesselius from In a Glass Darkly by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (author of Carmilla). Credited as the first embodiment of the trope in fictional literature, and thus, the Trope Maker.
  • Dr. Abraham van Helsing is the Trope Codifier. Although he doesn't start this way, he quickly becomes one.
    • Also his Expy, Rudolph van Richten of Ravenloft.
    • Dr. Zimmer, from Kiss of the Vampire, is another expy of Abe.
  • Dr. Raymond from Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, who doubles as a Mad Scientist.
  • Flaxman Low from Real Ghosts by E. and H. Herron.
  • Algernon Blackwood's Dr. John Silence.
  • David from Haunted 1988 investigates ghosts though he doesn't believe in their existence.
  • The League of Gentlemen: Mark Gatiss' character Lucifer Box turns into one despite a straight first book. In his sequel suddenly he's stopping Satan from manifesting on earth.
  • The Thomas Carnacki stories by William Hope Hodgson. Some of Carnacki's cases are not occult at all; it is Carnacki's trick that he is open to both possibilities.
  • Dirk Gently is a subversion, as he doesn't believe in the occult or paranormal; to him it's just an elaborate con. He is repeatedly frustrated to find his cons coming true, however.
  • Harry D'amour from Clive Barker's The Last Illusion, The Great and Secret Show, Everville, and the forthcoming The Scarlet Gospels, in which he gets to uh, "detect" Pinhead from Hellraiser. Good luck with that, Harry.
  • Kim Newman's works include several:
    • Sally Rhodes, heroine of "Organ Donors" and The Quorum. In one story it mentions she trained under D'amour.
    • The agents of the Diogenes Club, including the psychic Richard Jeperson, his also psychic assistant Vanessa, and the non-psychic but handy-to-have-around Fred Regent; in an earlier period of the Club's 'history', the detective role is taken by Edwin Winthrop and his assistant is Catriona Kaye.
    • Winthrop also appears (along with Newman's vampire heroine Genevieve) in a small role in The Big Fish, in which a hard-boiled pulp fiction detective (who enjoys reading hard-boiled pulp fiction) investigates a case that mixes organised crime and the Cthulhu Mythos. His actual name is never revealed, though he does bear a striking resemblance to Philip Marlowe from the novels by Raymond Chandler. (Word of God has been ambiguous about whether he's actually Marlowe or just some guy with a similar shtick.)
  • Several of Manly Wade Wellman's recurring characters; Judge Pursuivant and John Thunstone are two of the more prominent.
  • The Dresden Files: Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. With the added twist that not only does he know that all the occult stuff is completely real, but he also cheerfully uses it to blow stuff up. He provides the page image for a reason, and in recent books he's more of a magical cop, having joined the White Council's wardens. He provides the current page image because, aside from maybe Abraham Van Helsing, he is possibly the best known.
  • Nightside: John Taylor, Private Eye.
  • The Hollows: Morgan, Tamwood, and Jenks though Rachel tends to do more fighting than investigating.
  • An awful lot of Nancy Drew's and the Hardy Boys' investigations appear to be supernatural at first, although they generally wind up busting smugglers or industrial spies or whatever.
  • Vicki Nelson of Blood Books (also in the TV show).
  • Several of H.P. Lovecraft's characters try to do this, usually with less than great results.
  • Repairman Jack, although not technically a detective, keeps running into spooky stuff he must protect his vigilante-for-hire clients from. Fortunately he's getting pretty good at it, and packs more heat than most of the above examples.
  • Simon Ark from the short stories by Edward D. Hoch. Simon looks to be an ordinary man in his sixties but claims he is actually over 2000 years old, a Coptic priest who travels the world looking for evil—specifically Satan. It is said that he is cursed by God, that when Jesus carrying the cross wanted to rest, Ark refused him and in turn has never known rest himself, doomed to wander the globe forever. However the immortality element is not played up in any way and is just incidental. The Simon Ark stories have supernatural themes, although the crimes in them are always found to have been committed by mundane means.
  • Harper Blaine from Kat Richardson's Greywalker series, who actually was a qualified P.I. even before she began having supernatural experiences.
  • Foucault's Pendulum is a darkly satirical Deconstruction of this trope.
  • Anita Blake: In addition to raising the dead, she's a Federal Marshal, and consults with the local police force's preternatural task force.
  • Felix Castor: An exorcist rather than a detective by trade, but he usually ends up having to solve some mystery or another.
  • Subverted in Eater of Souls, a period mystery set in ancient Egypt. While the crime turned out to be the work of a mortal serial killer, sleuth/spymaster Lord Meren pursues it under the presumption that something supernatural could be to blame, even going so far as to remind his son to wear protective amulets while investigating.
  • David Ash in several books by James Herbert.
  • Inverted in the Garrett P.I. novels, as Garrett is a Badass Normal from a world where the fantastic isn't hidden at all, and he frequently discovers that a crime had been committed for completely mundane reasons, even if its methods of commission were magical.
  • Lord Darcy certainly qualifies.
  • The protagonists of The Longing of Shiina Ryo may become this, depending on their sensei's mood.
  • Nelly Rapp in the Swedish childrens book series Monsterakademin. She works for a secret society, and while her title is "monster agent" she rarely does anything violent and often acts more like an occult social worker - Dark Is Not Evil, and some "monsters" mostly need help. She is a Kid Detective because the Academy starts training very early.
  • The Titus Crow series of books by Brian Lumley, in which the protagonist enters the world of H.P.Lovecraft and kicks ass.
  • DCI Nightingale, and Detective Constable Peter Grant, from the Rivers of London books, are official Occult Detectives.
  • Sunshine has the Special Other Forces (SOF), which deals with all paranormal threats and crimes. Fully-funded, non-secret government agency as the book is setting is The Unmasqued World.
  • James William Butler "Sandman Slim" Stark.
  • The Iron Druid, Atticus O'Slulivan, of the Iron Druid Chronicles.
  • Diana Tregarde isn't officially a detective, but a Guardian's job description includes finding out whether the Bad Stuff Going On is mystical, and ending it if it is.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Agents Mulder and Scully of The X-Files.
  • Kolchak the Night Stalker and its less than successful remake.
  • Lost Girl has succubus Bo reluctantly becoming an Occult Detective, who specializes in cases involving the fae.
  • Sapphire and Steel, if you stretch the definition to include nonhuman entities investigating other nonhuman entities.
  • Randall and Hopkirk Deceased more the Noughties remake than the original 1969-70 series; there the cases were more usually normal crimes... it's just that one of the detectives was a ghost.
  • Angel. It's the entire premise of the show.
  • Averted in Pushing Daisies, where the hero is an investigator with a superhuman power, but all the crimes he investigates are non-occult, though still incredibly weird.
  • Fringe: Special Agent Olivia Dunham, along with Mad Scientist Walter Bishop and his son Peter, doesn't really investigate "occult" stuff, but rather incredibly strange and bizarre incidents.
  • The Section 13 Case Files has an entire secret division of NYPD officers to investigate the supernatural. Some members of their ranks aren't even human.
  • Twin Peaks
  • Supernatural brothers Sam and Dean.
  • The Chicago Police Department had an entire division devoted to supernatural investigations. It was designated Special Unit 2.
  • Shadow Chasers Mackensie and Benedek.
  • Arguably, Merlin and Guinevere from Merlin, who have teamed up on more than one occasion to investigate fantastical happenings in Camelot, earning them the Fan Nickname of "Camelot's Dectective Agency."
  • The characters of Kamen Rider W investigate strange happenings as caused by Dopants, humans-turned-monsters by use of Gaia Memories, giant USB sticks from the centre of the Earth. The show is technically science fiction, but it's soft enough to be considered Urban Fantasy, particularly considering how much Shoutaro is concerned with being hardboiled.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • All the PCs in Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game) are "investigators" of the Cosmic Horrors, of course.
    • PCs can also have such occupations as Police Detective, Private Investigator and Parapsychologist. Although some campaigns feature PCs stumbling across the occult, others have them actively investigate it from the word go.
    • The Call of Cthulhu card game also has The Agency, a faction made up of police and government investigators of strange happenings. They're the ones most likely to be trying to punch out Cthulhu. Sometimes, they succeed.
  • Bureau 13 from Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic, which also spawned a series of novels and a video game.
  • Hunter: The Vigil has the Null Mysteriis, or: The Organization for Rational Assession of the Supernatural. The other organizations are more interested in hunting and destroying the supernaturals than uncovering facts about them.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Gabriel Knight, the titular character in the Gabriel Knight series of adventure games, who investigates murders related to things such as Voodoo, Werewolves, and Vampires.
  • Despite the subtitle of 'Phantom Detective', Sissel of Ghost Trick originally subverts this. It's only in pursuit of his own identity and murderer that he solves the multitude of mysteries around him. And all of them turn out to be related to his identity anyway.
  • Patrick Galloway, the player character in Clive Barker's Undying.
  • The Startling Developments agency in Penny Arcade Adventures.
  • Edward Carnby from every version of Alone in the Dark.
  • "Witch Hunters" in fourth episode of Umineko no Naku Koro ni.
  • Phoenix Wright of Ace Attorney isn't occult himself (nor, technically, a detective), but his assistant Maya is a spirit medium who channels her sister Mia. In the second and third games he also carries a Magatama, a device that lets him see the 'locks' around people's hearts when they keep secrets.
  • Raidou Kuzunoha, from the Shin Megami Tensei spinoff Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army.
  • The protagonists of both Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire end up very frequently investigating and/or fighting ghosts, Force ghosts, demons and the like.
  • The Mass Effect series may also count, as the Reapers are certainly occult, and in the second game Shepard is actively looking for them.
  • Touhou has The Sealing Club duo: Marybery Hearn (student of Relative Psychology), and Renko Usami (student of Super-unifying Physics). They mainly give a glimpse of how dangerous and terrifying Gensokyo is from the view of a Muggle.


Web Comics[edit | hide]


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Charles Carr, perhaps the foremost occult detective and investigator in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe. No real mystic power to speak of, though he has a strange way of being able to affect mystic creatures with mundane attacks when such actions are needed. He got into occult investigations because of an encounter with a truly horrific demon when he was a child. He is known in the mystic community as a knowledgeable scholar of the occult, and as an effective exorcist and monster-fighter, to the point that most supernatural "monsters" fear encountering him when they wouldn't otherwise fear a high-powered superhuman.
    • Nicholas Chandler, age 14, is perhaps the only "monster slayer" in the Global Guardians PBEM U Niverse more feared than Charles Carr. At age eight he used a baseball bat to kill a menacing spirit he still considers as "the Boogeyman" to this day. Nick is considered the "creepy little kid" in his neighborhood, and is distrusted by parents and children alike... until the children come to him telling stories of strange things bumping around their windows at night. He lives with his parents, and has said he wants to be a museum curator when he grows up.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Mystery Gang. Well, sort of. They tried investigating, but they mostly just ran around. Only Velma really searched for any clues.
  • Invader Zim's Dib considers himself a paranormal investigator. Several other paranormal investigators appear throughout the series with varying degrees of sanity.
  • Martin Mystery


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Charles Fort bordered on this. He wrote several satirical books on news stories from around the world that were ignored by Western scientists. Many of the supposedly "impossible" phenomena he wrote on, deemed too ridiculous to warrant inquiry by mainstream scientists, later turned out to be true - for instance: blood-red rains, fish and frogs falling from the sky, and ball lightning.
  • David Icke has made a career out of researching the British Royalty, the Trilateral Commission, the Council for Foreign Relations, and the Bilderburg Group. He concludes that the movers and shakers behind international banking and governments are in fact suffering-eating reptilians from another dimension. In his defense, no one has ever held the Baron de Rothschild down for long enough to take a DNA sample, and Nancy Pelosi does appear to be a lizard.
  • Psychologist Ian Stevenson was so impressed by the claims of illiterate Hindu children in India that he devoted the rest of his life to studying Near-Death experiences and Reincarnation.
  • John Lilly was a medical doctor and psychoanalyst who patented many inventions including the sensory deprivation tank. He began to experiment with long periods in the tank, causing vivid hallucinations(?) of communication with extra-terrestrial entities. He began to experiment with LSD Ketamine (a dissociative aenesthetic, as opposed to a hallucinogenic) and was firmly convinced he could talk with dolphins. The movie Altered States is based on his life and experiences, and Wonko the Sane from the Hitchhiker's Guide is an Affectionate Parody.
  • Ghost Hunters, UFO enthusiasts, and people generally interested in weird stuff are very common and have been for many years.
  • James Randi, a scientific skeptic and former stage magician, describes himself as an 'investigator' in the occult, paranormal and supernatural (which he collectively refers to as "woo-woo"). He claims that up-to-date, his search for true woo-woo has been unsuccessful.