Cold Case Files and the Fictional P.I.

There is nothing more intriguing to many readers than a cold case mystery. The details, the missed evidence, the old clues that fresh eyes might decipher; it’s all there for the reader. Putting all the old crime scene data together is similar to working a puzzle. Finding that one crucial piece can solve the case.

Though cold case mysteries have been around for centuries (the short tale “The Three Apples” in Arabian Nights detailed a cold case and amateur detective of sorts, who solved the mystery of a dead female whose body was found in a trunk floating in the river Tigris), the public interest in books featuring a cold case is increasing today. Whether a kidnapping, murder, sudden unexplained disappearance, the finding of a long-lost relative, or even the nailing of a wayward spouse, the need to know what happened is a human desire.

The who, what, where, how, and why grab our interest, and that’s where the fictional private investigator comes in. She or he is hired to solve the cold case and, as the story unfolds, the fun begins.

As my character private investigator Cate Harlow states, concerning her own cold case of a missing teen in chapter one of For I Have Sinned,

At some time in their lives, most people think that they need the services of a private investigator and they’re pretty much willing to pay whatever is charged. Usually they’re looking to nail a cheating spouse, find a long-lost relative, or uncover some secret about their family’s past. And while I certainly don’t want to put myself out of business, in my experience they’d be better off saving their money. The truth is that if you suspect a spouse is cheating, he, or she, usually is. That long-lost relative you feel that you just have to find? In nine out of ten cases, that person doesn’t want to be found. And that crucial info, that secret, you’re so eager to find out about your family’s past? Forget it. Unless you’re prepared to face some horrible, frightening fact about your ancestors that may haunt you forever, leave it alone. When you open a locked door, you never know what slime will ooze through.*

Even though Cate feels that the teen missing for ten years may be dead, she eagerly takes on the cold case for her client and perseveres through danger and horrific details, almost losing her own life in the bargain. That’s the way it is with just about all fictional cold case investigators; they’ll do anything to get to the truth.

The human need to find closure in any case, cold or not, has helped authors create multi-faceted characters who will risk their own lives and reputations to find answers as to what has happened.  These characters are likeable. They’re reader-relatable characters with human flaws, personal lives, workplace friends, and a tenacity to work all angles until they solve the crime. As Cate Harlow assures her clients, “Trust me, I’m very good at what I do.”

Cold case fiction is so popular today that there are now websites inviting amateur sleuths to examine and try to solve cold case murders within a group of like-minded aficionados. If you’re interested in trying your hand in solving a cold case crime, visit and

Reading a well-written fictional cold case mystery featuring a savvy, tenacious protagonist is a must for the armchair private investigator or detective. Getting the crime solved at the end of the book is the objective, and the suspense leading up to that end is what gives the reader a sense of closure.

Cold case fiction is a fan favorite and justly so; especially since the fictional detective/investigator, amateur or pro, will always neatly solve the crime by book’s end.

*Excerpt from FOR I HAVE SINNED ©copyright 2016 Kristen Houghton all rights reserved.


Kristen Houghton is the author of nine top-selling books including the very popular new series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.