TV Crime-Solvers Who Use An Unorthodox Approach To Crack Cases

Voting Rules

Vote up the fictional detectives, both professional and amateur, whose unconventional approaches to solving crimes get the best results.

Mystery and crime are incredibly popular genres in all media. For decades, literature, film, and especially TV have seen the whodunit format endure as a vital method of storytelling. With the proliferation of crime-solving shows, it's a common trope to center on one lead detective who is a bit… unusual. 

All of these detectives harness their quirks to help them on the job. Whether their distinctions are supernatural abilities that help them on the job, or past traumas that both weigh them down and inspire them to work harder, each sleuth here uses their oddity to their advantage.

  • Temperance Brennan In 'Bones'
    Photo: Fox

    What makes her unorthodox: Technically a forensic anthropologist rather than a detective, Temperance "Bones" Brennan works with a large team, including Detective Seeley Booth, to help solve crimes. Brennan is known for her straightforward manner, often lacking tact in social situations. Though she's "brilliant" in the science of her work, she's "clueless" when it comes to interpersonal skills.

    Why it works: As her nickname suggests, Brennan's encyclopedic knowledge of human remains makes her vital to the team. Without her ability to make breakthroughs from tiny details in forensics, the team would get stuck and most cases would end unsolved. Also, although she's blunt, she's able to get right to the point and push a case forward without dawdling. It's no shocker the show is named after her.

    7 votes
  • Ned In 'Pushing Daisies'
    Photo: ABC

    What makes him unorthodox: Ned is, in fact, not a detective by day: He's a pie-baker, and happens to have the ability to bring the dead back to life by touch. This unusual ability helps him solve terminations, but also causes major intimacy issues for him. As a child, before he understood his abilities, Ned accidentally re-"slain" his revived mother with a kiss goodnight, and now struggles with his ability to form relationships when his touch can be life or passing.

    Why it works: Obviously, Ned's ability provides a massive advantage in offense-solving because he can revive victims and directly question them about what happened. In collaboration with private investigator Emerson Cod, Ned solves many cases this way, but always struggles with the emotional burden from the huge responsibility of such a gift.

    6 votes
  • Columbo In 'Columbo'
    Photo: NBC

    What makes him unorthodox: Columbo is unshaven, disheveled, clumsy, and disarmingly friendly - the opposite of what you’d expect a veteran investigator to be. Unlike other famous detectives who are imposing in their dress and manner of speaking, bordering on elitist, Columbo is approachable to a degree you would never expect in someone who's such a genius at his job.

    Why it works: Because of Columbo’s eccentric appearance and mannerisms, murderers almost always let their guard down around him, because they assume he is stupid or incompetent. His blue-collar charm allows him to gain the confidence of his usually-upper-class suspects, and unlock major clues or confessions in record time - all with his polite catchphrase, “Just one more thing.”

    25 votes
  • Rust Cohle In 'True Detective'
    Photo: HBO

    What makes him unorthodox: Rust Cohle is a nihilist, often lamenting how life is meaningless even as he attempts to solve murders. Gradually, viewers learn why Cohle became this way: He suffered a series of traumas throughout childhood and adulthood, beginning with his parents' divorce, then the death of his 2-year-old daughter, then a descent into substance problems while working as a narcotics detective. Now, Cohle's PTSD and recovery from dependency haunt him as he works on new cases.

    Why it works: As a homicide detective for the Louisiana State Police, Cohle tries to leave his past behind, but can't shake the trauma that is ingrained into him. His cynicism makes him a good investigator, though, as he understands just how low any human being can stoop. Together with his partner Marty Hart, Cohle is able to uncover and stop a brutal serial killer thanks to his unflinching, nihilistic nature.

    10 votes
  • Will Graham In 'Hannibal'
    Photo: NBC

    What makes him unorthodox: In contrast with many criminals who lack empathy (and some of the detectives on this list!), Will Graham has a surplus of it. Combined with his years of study in psychology and profiling for the FBI, this natural inclination to empathy puts him over the top to nearly a supernatural level of investigative abilities, for a certain very warped category of criminals. 

    Why it works: Graham is able to empathize with the offenders he tracks so deeply that he can anticipate and extrapolate their motivations with a high degree of accuracy, even from a shockingly small amount of evidence. Merely by standing at a crime scene and closing his eyes, Graham can envision how a culprit chose to kill, and why, which is vital to helping the FBI catch them. Average killers are no match for Graham's investigation, and it takes another incredibly brilliant mind like Hannibal Lecter to even give Graham a challenge.

    24 votes
  • Dexter Morgan In 'Dexter'
    Photo: Showtime

    What makes him unorthodox: Most TV detectives aren't criminals themselves. Dexter's willingness to murder in the name of justice is a wildly different tactic from any other on this list. In his position as a "blood splatter analyst" for the Miami Police, Dexter uses the intelligence he gathers on active murderers to perform vigilante justice: He's a serial killer who only targets other serial killers, in the name of stopping them. 

    Why it works: Though the morality of this method is questionable to say the least, there's no denying that Dexter gets results. When he takes down another killer, it stops them from hurting anyone else ever again. In this regard, Dexter has probably prevented more murders than any other fictional sleuth... although he's also committed the most murders himself.

    15 votes