Short Mystery Stories
This page compiles stories of mystery, suspense, and tension. Some of the selections have action while others are more about the process. Regardless, they're written to keep you wondering what happens next. I hope you find a new story to enjoy.
Links are provided where possible for easy reading.
1. "The Thief" by Gregg Hurwitz
Tommy is a fat teenager in Mrs. Connelly's special class at school. His mother is disappointed that he's in the habit of stealing things. His mother finds life hard at times and misses adult company. One day while she's out a man comes to the door. Tommy's not supposed to answer when he's alone, but he does anyway.
This story can be read in the Amazon preview of First Thrills.
2. "Wish You Were Here" by Frank Jones
Dorothy buys a gnome for her garden. She's happy with it and picks the perfect spot. One morning she finds it's been knocked over. A few days later it happens again. Dorothy decides to do something about it. She suspects it's the Allen boys; she heads for their place.
3. "The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife" by Agatha Christie
Mr. Packington leaves for work. Mrs. Packington sits at the kitchen table, first angry and then sad. She reads an ad in the paper by Parker Pyne, who claims he can help unhappy people. She goes to his office. He knows some of her experiences and concerns without being told. He believes he can help her, but his fee is too high.
This story can be read in the Amazon preview of Parker Pyne Investigates: A Short Story Collection (11% into preview).
It's a lot of money to risk. You've got to trust me, you see? You've got to pay the money and take a chance. Those are my terms.
— "The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife"
4. "Last Supper" by Rip Gerber
Chris and Mary are cooking together. Mary realizes she forgot the mushrooms. She goes out to get some. Mary happens to be at the grocery when a robbery is taking place. She becomes an accidental casualty. Years later, Chris is using religion and cooking to cope.
Read "Last Supper" (Ctrl + F the title)
5. "On the Train" by Rebecca Cantrell
Joachim is in a train with other prisoners. He has a yellow triangle on his jacket. A man with a pink triangle, Herman, says he knows Joachim and starts talking to him. Joachim claims not to know the man. Herman starts talking about escaping.
Read "On the Train" (Ctrl + F the title)
6. "Children's Day" by Kelli Stanley
It's children's day at a large exposition. Miranda, a private eye, notices a clown pulling a little girl along. She follows but loses them in the crowd. She gets the full story from the mother.
The clown and the kid, still in sight, headed toward Heather Row. But the clown was pulling the kid’s arm, the girl crying, upset. Fat lady in green nowhere to be seen.
— Kelli Stanley
7. "Guy Walks Into a Bar" by Lee Child
While at a bar, Jack Reacher notices a young blonde woman who seems to be in love with the band's guitar player. She has a pile of money on her table that she's using to buy wine and give big tips. Reacher also notices two tall Russians watching the girl. They look like they're preparing for action.
8. "The Paperhanger" by William Gay
The doctor's wife's child vanished in broad daylight. It started with the wife arguing with the paperhanger. After calling him a name she stormed out of the room. She went to her car and called her little daughter. There was no answer.
9. "Night Drive" by Will F. Jenkins
Madge is just walking out the door to drive to Colchester when her phone rings. It's Mr. Tabor asking if his niece Eunice could ride with her. The mention of the Colchester road makes her uncomfortable because of its tragic link to Mr. Tabor. She agrees to help. She finds the drive—and Eunice—to be unsettling.
No woman liked to think about Mrs. Tabor before driving a car at night, alone. There was the other girl, too, but it wasn’t quite the same thing. Nobody knew who the other girl was, or how it happened. But Madge had known Mrs. Tabor.
— Will F. Jenkins
10. "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell
The crew of a ship talk about hunting and a nearby island with a bad reputation. After they turn in for the night, one of the men, Rainsford, hears three shots fired in the distance. While checking it out, he falls overboard.
11. "The .50 Solution" by Lee Child
A rich man has heard that an assassin has used a Barrett Model Ninety on occasion. He tells the assassin he wants that weapon used for a particular job. The assassin doesn't think that's the right weapon to use. He tries to talk him out of it, but the rich man explains his reason and insists.
12. "Soft" by F. Paul Wilson
The narrator and his daughter, Judy, are hiding out in their apartment. A plague called the softness is maiming and then killing everyone. They've been affected but they haven't died. They have immunity, but the narrator decides to ignore the calls for immune people to report for examination to aid in a cure.
13. "Operation Northwoods" by James Grippando
Jack Swyteck, a lawyer, gets a call in the early morning from his "investigator" and friend, Theo. He says to turn on CNN. The naval base at Guantanamo Bay is on fire. Theo says a client of Jack's is responsible.
This story can be read in the preview of Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night (48% in) on Amazon.
14. "Epitaph" by J. A. Konrath
The narrator is beaten up by a gang and left in an alley. He struggles back to his cheap hotel and self-medicates. After sleeping, he gathers some things and goes to see his client. He tells him they were the people they're looking for and assures him the job will be done.
I hurt a lot, but pain and I were old acquaintances. I took a deep breath, let it out slow, did some poking and prodding. Nothing seemed seriously damaged.
I'd been lucky.
— J. A. Konrath
15. "The Bruce-Partington Plans" by Arthur Conan Doyle
The crime in London isn't stimulating enough for Holmes. His boredom is allayed when he gets a telegram. His brother, Mycroft, is on his way with urgent news. A twenty-seven-year-old government employee was found dead on the train tracks. He was carrying plans for the Bruce-Partington submarine, a top-secret government project.
16. "Miss Hinch" by Henry Sydnor Harrison
An Episcopal Minister strikes up a conversation with an older woman on the subway. They talk about the story that's on everyone's mind. Miss Hinch, an actress, stabbed John Catherwood. He informed her of his upcoming marriage. She disappeared almost immediately after and is still at large. Neither the police nor a famous detective, Jessie Dark, have made any progress.
Read "Miss Hinch"
17. "Slippery Fingers" by Dashiell Hammett
The Continental Op listens to the story of a murdered man, told by his son, Frederick Grover. The man's father lived only with servants. He dismissed his butler-valet, Barton, for the night on Saturday. He was found the next morning, stabbed. He had recently withdrawn a large sum from the bank. Fingerprints found at the scene don't offer any promising leads.
Read "Slippery Fingers"
The police work on the job until they are stumped; then the injured party calls in a private sleuth, dumps him down on a trail that is old and cold and badly trampled, and expects—Oh, well! I picked out this way of making a living . . .
— Slippery Fingers
18. "A Bottle of Perrier" by Edith Wharton
Medford goes to visit his friend, Henry, in the desert. They have a shared interest in archaeology. Upon arriving, he finds his friend has been called away to investigate some ruins. Henry's servant, Gosling, attends to Medford while he waits.
19. "The Whole Town's Sleeping" by Ray Bradbury
Lavinia and Francine walk to the theater on a warm summer evening. They talk about the Lonely One, someone who's been strangling women in the area. Francine is concerned and suggests turning back. Lavinia will have to walk through the ravine on the way back. They make a discovery that disturbs Francine even more.
20. "The Blue Cross" by G. K. Chesterton
Valentin, head of the Paris police and world-famous investigator, is in London. He's pursuing Flambeau, a criminal known for his physical and mental prowess. Finding him will be difficult but Flambeau does have one undisguisable trait—a height of six feet four inches. His search begins with his morning cup of coffee, which is distinctly unpleasant. The waiter's explanation gives him something to go on.
This story introduces the famous Father Brown. If you like this character, he's featured in plenty more stories.
Read "The Blue Cross"
But he was a thinking man, and a plain man at the same time. All his wonderful successes, that looked like conjuring, had been gained by plodding logic, by clear and commonplace French thought.
— The Blue Cross
21. "An Eye For an Eye" by Jeffrey Archer
Sir Matthew looks over a potential case with a solicitor, Bernard Casson. Mary Banks is accused of murdering her husband. She maintains her innocence. Sir Matthew has his doubts and isn't convinced she should plead not guilty. She claims she was blind and in the hospital when her husband was killed.
Read "An Eye For an Eye"
22. "The Bookbinder's Apprentice" by Martin Edwards
Joly, a young man low on money, is reading on a bench. An older man, Sanborn, approaches and strikes up a conversation about rare books. They go to an out-of-the-way spot for a drink. Sanborn introduces Joly to Zuichini, a master bookbinder. He's a bit suspicious of his new acquaintances but accepts their hospitality.
Read "The Bookbinder's Apprentice" (scroll down over halfway)
23. "Distilling the Truth" by Marilyn Todd
Luc, a detective, has revealed the Chief Inspector's corruption to the Commissioner. His wife, Marie-Claude, is upset, knowing he'll be transferred out of Paris. She's right; two weeks later he's sent to Cognac. They move. Marie-Claude decides to get her husband settled and then leave him. Before she can carry out her plan, a woman she knows in Cognac is killed.
Read "Distilling the Truth" (CTR + F the title)
Marie-Claude switched off. Her husband was clever, conscientious, honourable, but dull. Handsome, rugged, muscular, and tall, yet he lacked passion where it really counted. And now, it seemed, he was a failure into the bargain.
— Distilling the Truth
24. "Success of a Mission" by Dennis Lynds
The enemy is planning an attack in three days. It can't be repelled without the location of their ammunition dumps, supply depots and fuel stores. Their contact near the Capital knows the location of the data but can't get to it himself. Captain Hareet and Lieutenant Frank are sent in, posing as a married couple.
25. "Adjustment Team" by Philip K. Dick
In the early morning the Clerk enters a backyard. He tells the dog that Sector T137 is scheduled for an adjustment at nine o'clock. The man who lives in the house, Ed, works in that sector. It's the dog's job to get the man to work before that time so everything will be properly placed. The dog assures the Clerk it will be done. Meanwhile, Ed finishes breakfast as his wife rushes off to work.
Read "Adjustment Team"
26. "The Bodyguard" by Lee Child
The narrator is a real bodyguard—a thinker with experience who knows what he's doing. He started out working for an agency. Then he went into business for himself. The jobs were harder. He relates one such job. He worked for a rich young woman named Anna who wanted some freedom of movement.
Read "The Bodyguard" (Ctrl + F the title)
She took my formal qualifications for granted. I have scars and medals and commendations. I had never lost a client. Anything else, she wouldn’t have been talking to me, of course. She asked about my worldview, my opinions, my tastes, my preferences. She was interested in compatibility issues. Clearly she had employed bodyguards before.
— Lee Child
27. "Faithless" by Joyce Carol Oates
The last time Cornelia and Constance Nissenbaum saw their mother was the day before she disappeared forever. She was late coming down to breakfast. They could feel something was wrong. It was time to leave for school, but they couldn't go. They started searching. They found her lying on her bed, disheveled and breathing heavily. Their recollection and interpretation of the morning's events would vary.
Read "Faithless" (PDF Pg. 141)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.