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Private Detective - Fact or Fiction?

Published: 04 March, 2014.

A private investigator or private detective is a person who is hired to solve a mystery and who doesn't work for a government agency.

Generally private investigators come from a range of backgrounds like ex-forces or police / ex-store detectives, etc.

Traditionally, private investigators are seen as white knights who represent justice when the system fails. For whatever reason, the police and/or the legal system are unable to find or provide evidence a private investigator could be hired to set things right.

Nowadays private detectives are also hired for matrimonial cases such as cheating partners, or to find missing people or bad debtors or intelligence gathering for big corporate companies.

Theft of time and personal injury is becoming very popular in today’s climate.

When people hear the name private investigator they usually think of a fantasy character in the way that western gun-slinger' are fantasy characters. Most private detective stories do not reflect the realities of being an actual private detective. Instead, private detectives fill the societal need for a hero.

The private detective is usually someone with a very strong moral centre who pursues justice for justice itself as much as for the financial remuneration.

Private detectives have historically been men since many other countries require a police or military background as part of the licensing requirements which limited opportunities for women. Now, of course, there are numerous notable female private investigators.

Most private detectives work out of a one-person office (plus perhaps a secretary) but some are part of a larger agency or may supervise junior investigators.

Fictionally private investigators are often seen as sarcastic or rude, free to poke fun at bureaucracies, social classes, and doublethink, with many a time serving as an impartial judge and jury. These fictional private investigators, although exciting to the on-looker, often blur legal lines, especially when it comes to violence. The behaviour of many fictional private investigators would quickly land their real-life counterparts in prison but fulfils the expectations of many book readers.

Private detectives often have a sidekick who can serve one or more of several purposes. The sidekick can act as sounding board, comic relief, or agent. As agent, the sidekick can do all the boring research jobs so that the private detective doesn't have to bring the reader along.

You often see in films, private detectives walking down dark alleys or through high-rise corporate headquarters. That is correct, fact or fiction, depending on the job, a private detective should be able to blend in anywhere the investigation leads.


The classic private detective storyline goes: 1) private detective is hired, 2) private investigator stirs things up, and 3) private investigator picks up the pieces. In real life however, there is a forth element – we present the pieces objectively to our client, in order for them to make an informed decision on the findings.

Too many stories have started with the private detective sitting behind a desk interviewing a client. Too many stories have involved strong-arming all the suspects until someone overreacts. Too many stories have ended with a gunfight after the guilty person pulls a weapon. Many bad private investigator stories have also ignored the realities of payment, contracts, and reports. Private investigators and their clients have a business relationship with all the legal ramifications that come with any customer situation.

Private investigator cases can sometimes revolve around interviews and research. The private investigator is collecting information in order to recreate what happened or to learn where a person might be hiding.

Private investigators or private detectives can exist in cities or small towns or villages. They can be found whenever they are needed to uncover discretely the whereabouts of an individual of the truth!

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