Years ago when I first started writing mysteries I was watching a talk show and the authors on the show were promoting their book, Be Your Own Detective. The minute I heard the title an idea for a story clicked in my brain and I had a character use the book to figure out how to get her ex-husband cleared of murder charges.
This was back in 1989, so you can imagine some of the methods have changed since then with the internet and social media.
The Paper Trail- Which used to be strictly a trail of paper that a person had to go through in person or have minions that did, can now be followed from a chair anywhere in the world practically. If the person detecting has the skills to use the right keywords and codes to get into archives and government files, they can look up anything they need.
Even though the electronic age has made getting information easier, there are still traits that are needed to be a good detective. A high intelligence like Sherlock Holmes or MacGyver isn't necessary but some intelligence is needed along with:
Street Sense is understanding how the world works and people respond to it. A detective needs to be intuitive, have instincts that can determine what is out of sync and what isn't in a situation. A good way to check your intuitiveness is to go to a bar and watch the people. You can tell who is a regular and who isn't by paying attention. Have your character pay attention to everything and he can sort out what matters later.
Analytic Ability are used by detectives to solve problems. By "paying attention" the detective can make connections other people don't see and come up with the answers.
Curiosity is the detective's best weapon and in some cases his worst. ;0) But curiosity while it is unappealing to those being under scrutiny or could put the detective or his client in trouble it is a valuable trait. Questions need to be asked and a curios person will ask them. By digging into things the truth pops up.
Tangential Knowledge is the odd bits of information a person collects for years. Kind of like trivia.The more trivia a detective has at his arsenal the easier it is for him or her to get closer to a person by conversing about a topic that person is knowledgeable about or enjoys doing. By making them comfortable the detective can then begin asking the questions he really wanted to ask in the first place.
Do you use these qualities in your characters who are solving puzzles? Have you read a book lately with a fun intelligent detective?