The Mysterious Case of the Part Time Private Detective


Being a private detective is difficult work. It’s definitely not a profession that can be done spare time.  Yet portraying amateur sleuths, who balance work as a private detective with more mundane professions, seems like the construct of many popular TV series’.  Here’s a roundup of the best and most incredulity-stretching examples. 

Jessica Fletcher (Murder She Wrote)

Easily the longest running and most popular TV series from our list, Murder She Wrote, tells the story of crime writer Jessica Fletcher.  As well as being a successful writer, Fletecher also has to be among the unluckiest.  Her friends and acquaintances are bumped off at an alarming rate.  Fletcher is forced to turn private detective to solves the crime – which then presumably provides the inspiration for her latest novel.

I’m not sure if this theory has been put forward before, but I like to give the series something of a post-modern interpretation.  Perhaps the murders are simply figments of Fletcher’s rich imagination, sewn from the seeds of real life events and played out in minute detail in her own imagination as she writes.  Just a thought.

Murder She Wrote is the trailblazer of the genre – paving the way for all professions to put down the traditional tools of their trade and pick up a magnifying glass.

Mark Sloan (Diagnosis Murder)

In an ideal world, Mark Sloan and Jessica Fletch would marry, settle down and raise a huge brood of little crime-solving private detective children.  On second thoughts, that might raise the murder rate in the immediate vicinity of their home to apocalyptic levels.

Like Jessica Fletcher, Sloane is a part time private detective whose primary occupation is as a surgeon at Community General Hospital, who sometimes helps Police solve their trickiest cases – which seems to be all of them.  Quite when Sloane finds time to minister to the sick and dying is a far greater mystery than any of the whodunits from the series, which ran for eight seasons.

Father Dowling (The Father Dowling Mysteries)

If Dr Mark Sloane and Jessica Fletcher’s fantasy wedding were to ever take place, there’d be only one holy man in the running to officiate the ceremony.  When not looking after the spiritual affairs of his congregation on the mean streets of Chicago, Illinois, Father Frank Dowling 

And wedding guests should watch their back because wherever father Dowling goes, murder is never far away.  His catchphrase:  “Father Phil, could you take 10 O’clock mass?  I’ve got a murder to solve,” is spoken with alarming frequency.

Frankly, without the support of his sidekick Sister Stephanie ‘Steve’ Oskowski – a tough talking, streetwise, crime solving nun – father Dowling would be pretty a pretty useless private detective. She does much of the legwork and has been known to get him out of a spot of bother more than once during the show’s three seasons.

Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme (Rosemary and Thyme)

The tradition of part time jobbing private detective continues across the pond with two gardeners whose knowledge of all things horticultural has helped them solve countless mysteries.

Being gardeners they also know how to dig for clues – unlike the real police force, who often miss out on the various gardening –related clues.  The show ran for three series and was widely and successfully syndicated across the globe.

We’d add Pie in the Sky to this list of part time private detectives, but its central character – restaurateur Henry Crabbe – is a bona fide member of the bona fide police, so doesn’t count as a part time private detective.

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