Inverted detective story
An inverted detective story, also known as a "howdhecatchem", is a murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

 mystery fiction
Mystery fiction
Mystery fiction is a loosely-defined term.1.It is often used as a synonym for detective fiction or crime fiction— in other words a novel or short story in which a detective investigates and solves a crime mystery. Sometimes mystery books are nonfiction...

 structure in which the commission of the crime is shown or described at the beginning, usually including the identity of the perpetrator. The story then describes the detective's attempt to solve the mystery. There may also be subsidiary puzzles, such as why the crime was committed, that are cleared up along the way. This format is the opposite of the more typical "whodunit
A whodunit or whodunnit is a complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the puzzle is the main feature of interest. The reader or viewer is provided with clues from which the identity of the perpetrator of the crime may be deduced before the solution is revealed in the final...

", where all of the details of the crime and the perpetrator are not revealed until the story's climax.

R. Austin Freeman claimed to have invented the inverted detective story in his 1912 collection of short stories The Singing Bone. "Some years ago I devised, as an experiment, an inverted detective story in two parts. The first part was a minute and detailed description of a crime, setting forth the antecedents, motives, and all attendant circumstances. The reader had seen the crime committed, knew all about the criminal, and was in possession of all the facts. It would have seemed that there was nothing left to tell, but I calculated that the reader would be so occupied with the crime that he would overlook the evidence. And so it turned out. The second part, which described the investigation of the crime, had to most readers the effect of new matter."

One early and prominent example of this sub-genre is Malice Aforethought
Malice Aforethought
Malice Aforethought is a murder mystery novel written by Anthony Berkeley Cox, using the pen name Francis Iles. It involves a Devon physician who slowly poisons his domineering wife so that he may be with the woman he loves. It is an early and prominent example of the "inverted detective story",...

, written in 1931 by Anthony Berkeley Cox
Anthony Berkeley Cox
Anthony Berkeley Cox was an English crime writer. He wrote under several pen-names, including Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts.- Life :...

 writing as Francis Iles. Freeman Wills Crofts
Freeman Wills Crofts
Freeman Wills Crofts was an Irish mystery author, one of the 'Big Four' of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.-Birth and education:Crofts was born at 26 Waterloo Road, Dublin, Ireland...

's The 12:30 from Croydon is another important instance.

The 1952 BBC television play Dial M for Murder
Dial M for Murder
Dial M for Murder is a 1954 American thriller film adapted from a successful stage play by Frederick Knott, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings. The movie was released by the Warner Bros...

by Frederick Knott
Frederick Knott
Frederick Major Paull Knott was an English playwright, best known for writing the London-based stage thriller Dial M for Murder, which was later filmed in Hollywood by Alfred Hitchcock....

 (later adapted for the stage and then adapted again in 1954 as a theatrical film by Alfred Hitchcock film) is another example. Tony Wendice outlines his plans to murder his wife Margot in the opening scenes, leaving the viewer with no questions about perpetrator or motive, only with how the situation will be resolved.

The short stories written by Roy Vickers
William Edward Vickers
William Edward Vickers was an English mystery writer better known under his pen name Roy Vickers, but used also the pseudonyms Roy C. Vickers, David Durham, Sefton Kyle, and John Spencer...

 about the Department of Dead Ends are nearly all of the inverted type. They deal with the eccentric methods used by Inspector Rason, a detective in a fictional division of Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service of London, UK. It derives from the location of the original Metropolitan Police headquarters at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard entrance became...

 assigned to investigate cold cases, to solve crimes where more conventional methods have failed.

Several of the Lord Peter Wimsey
Lord Peter Wimsey
Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey is a bon vivant amateur sleuth in a series of detective novels and short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, in which he solves mysteries; usually, but not always, murders...

 novels, such as "Unnatural Death
Unnatural Death
Unnatural Death is a 1927 mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, her third featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. It has also been published in the United States as The Dawson Pedigree.-Plot introduction:...

" and "Strong Poison
Strong Poison
Strong Poison is a 1929 novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, her fifth featuring Lord Peter Wimsey.-Plot introduction:It is in Strong Poison that Lord Peter first meets Harriet Vane, an author of police fiction. The immediate problem is that she is on trial for her life, charged with murdering her former...

", come near to inclusion in this category. In both books, there is from the start only one real suspect, whose guilt is more or less taken for granted already by the middle of the book and who indeed turns out to be the murderer. In both books - as in some other Sayers detective novel - the mystery to be solved is mainly the "why did this person have any motive to commit this murder" and "how did he or she do it" (which makes this format more similar to the majority of actual police investigations). Also, the short story "The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers", had the villain not only discovered, but dead at the beginning, and Lord Wimsey explaining his investigation in detail, right down to when the villain stumbled into a vat of molten glass.

The term "howcatchem" was coined only much later, by TV Guide
TV Guide
TV Guide is a weekly American magazine with listings of TV shows.In addition to TV listings, the publication features television-related news, celebrity interviews, gossip and film reviews and crossword puzzles...

in the 1970s after the television series Columbo popularized the format.

The 1989 theatrical play Over My Dead Body
Over My Dead Body
Over My Dead Body is a detective drama which was aired in the United States on the CBS television network as part of its 1990 fall lineup.Over My Dead Body starred Edward Woodward as Maxwell Beckett, an aging mystery novelist whose three successful early novels were starting to be overshadowed by...

, by Michael Sutton
Michael Sutton (playwright)
Michael Sutton is an American playwright, television writer, novelist and computer instructor.Born Michael Fossen in Pasadena, California, he adopted the name of his mother's second husband at an early age, following her divorce from his birth father.In 1979, he was commissioned by an agent-friend...

 and Anthony Fingleton, depicts three elderly detective story writers committing a real-life locked room murder in Rube Goldberg
Rube Goldberg
Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg was an American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer and inventor.He is best known for a series of popular cartoons depicting complex gadgets that perform simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. These devices, now known as Rube Goldberg machines, are similar to...

ian fashion, which the audience is in on every step of the way. In a variation of the typical inverted form, in this case the miscreants want to be caught and made to pay their debt to society.

In the 1990s, some episodes of Diagnosis: Murder
Diagnosis: Murder
Diagnosis: Murder is a mystery/medical/crime drama television series starring Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloan, a medical doctor who solves crimes with the help of his son, a homicide detective played by his real-life son Barry Van Dyke. The series began as a spin-off of Jake and the Fatman...

were presented in the howcatchem format, usually when featuring a "big name" (or at least recognizable) guest star. The currently-airing TV shows Monk
Monk (TV series)
Monk is an American comedy-drama detective mystery television series created by Andy Breckman and starring Tony Shalhoub as the titular character, Adrian Monk. It originally ran from 2002 to 2009 and is primarily a mystery series, although it has dark and comic touches.The series debuted on July...

and Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Law & Order: Criminal Intent
Law & Order: Criminal Intent is an American police procedural television drama series set in New York City, where it was also primarily produced. Created and produced by Dick Wolf and René Balcer, the series premiered on September 30, 2001, as the second spin-off of Wolf's successful crime drama...

have episodes structured as howcatchems, with the viewer typically witnessing the killer commit the crime, and then watching as the detectives attempt to solve it (and, in the case of at least one Monk episode, prove that it has even been committed). However, both series also use the whodunit
A whodunit or whodunnit is a complex, plot-driven variety of the detective story in which the puzzle is the main feature of interest. The reader or viewer is provided with clues from which the identity of the perpetrator of the crime may be deduced before the solution is revealed in the final...

 format at times.

See also

  • Columbo (TV series), a howcatchem detective series.
  • Furuhata Ninzaburo
    Furuhata Ninzaburo
    is a Japanese television series that ran periodically on Fuji Television from 1994 until its final episodes in 2006. It was written by Japanese playwright Koki Mitani and being known as the Japanese's version of Columbo....

    , a howcatchem detective series from Japan.
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