These short mysteries feature detectives or private eyes—professional or amateur, paid or voluntary. For stories with a focus on female detectives, see:
“A Scandal in Bohemia” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Dr. Watson drops in on Holmes after some time apart. Holmes has received a note saying a masked visitor would come by that evening with a sensitive case. The man is tall, muscled and richly dressed. He’s a Count of Bohemia. A picture that could cause problems for the King of Bohemia is in the possession of Irene Adler. His attempts to retrieve it have failed.
This is the first story in the preview of Big Book of Best Short Stories: Mystery & Detective. (5% in)
“The Bothersome Business of the Dutch Nativity” by Derek Wilson
Watson tells the story of Holmes’s lost first case. Holmes was enrolled at Grenville College. While riding the train he impressed a man, William Spooner, of New College with his deductive skills. Spooner takes the opportunity to enlist his help with a problem. A valuable Rembrandt painting, Nativity, was stolen from the college. There’s been a spate of similar incidents at other colleges. They’ll only be able to keep it quiet for so long.
This story can be read in the preview of The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures. (25% in)
“The Adventure of the Crimson Arrow” by Denis Smith
Sir George invites notable citizens to his country estate for the weekend. One of the traditions is an archery contest, as Sir George has taken an interest in the sport. One of his guests is Woodforde Soames, the renowned African explorer. On the following Monday, Watson reads in the paper that one of Sir George’s guests was killed by an arrow. They soon learn that Scotland Yard was called and an arrest was made.
This story can be read in the preview of The Mammoth Book of the Lost Chronicles of Sherlock Holmes. (9% in)
“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 preview of Parker Pyne Investigates: A Short Story Collection. (10% in)
“Justice” by Pamela Blackwood
William can’t sleep. He’s sore from work and his bed is empty. He gets up, goes outside, and sits on his front porch. He imagines Hannah coming back to him. There’s a terrible barking of dogs down the road. The next day, he hears there was a killing near his place.
The first few pages can be read in the Amazon preview of Best American Mystery Stories 2020.
“The Coming of Mr. Quin” by Agatha Christie
Some acquaintances are gathered at Royston, hosted by the Evesham’s, Tom and Laura. Also present is Sir Richard, who is a soldier and traveler, the Portals, and Mr. Satterthwaite, an observant man. He notices Mrs. Portal. Conversation turns to Mr. Capel, the man who used to own the house. He shot himself.
This story can be read in the preview of The Mysterious Mr. Quin: A Short Story Collection. (9% in)
“The Hunter” by Dashiell Hammett
Fred Vitt, a detective, is looking for a forger. He’s in the office of Twitchell, a box manufacturer. Twitchell’s name had been signed to a check for two hundred dollars. Vitt wants to see all the recent cancelled checks for comparison.
This story can be read in the preview of The Hunter: And Other Stories. (38% in)
“The Mystery of the Red Balloons” by Thomas Narcejac
Ellery Queen is summoned by his father, Inspector Queen of the police, to a New York apartment building. A forty-two year old stockbroker was found stabbed in his bedroom. The room is in order, there’s no murder weapon, and no fingerprints. Most unusual of all is that a red balloon was found on the balcony. Ellery deduces that it was left on purpose.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen. (42% in)
“The Affair at the Victory Ball” by Agatha Christie
Chief Inspector Japp brings Hercule Poirot in on a baffling case. While attending a costume ball a man is found stabbed. After being taken home a woman is found dead in her bed from a cocaine overdose.
Read “The Affair at the Victory Ball” (first story in preview)
“The Doctor’s Case” by Stephen King
Watson remembers a case where he solved the mystery before Holmes. Lestrade burst in at 221B Baker Street and urged Holmes to come investigate a perfect locked-room mystery. Lord Hull was found that morning in his study with a knife in his back and his will in front of him. He was a thoroughly unpleasant man, in business and at home. His family endured the mistreatment for the sake of inheriting his money.
This story can be read in the preview of The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. (18% in)
“The Wild Adventure of the Indigo Impossibility” by Will Murray
Watson finds Holmes pondering an extraordinary case. The papers are reporting that people in Thundersley are being killed by an unknown creature. It walks on two legs, is a deep indigo color and has claws. Holmes is going to investigate in the morning.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of The Wild adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
“Maddened by Mystery: or The Defective Detective” by Stephen Leacock
The Great Detective is sitting in his office when a baffling case is presented to him. The Prince of Wurttemberg has been kidnapped. The Great Detective devotes the full power of his analytical brain to the case.
This story is a parody of Sherlock Holmes.
It’s the first story in the preview of Complete Nonsense Novels. (11% in)
“Three Blind Mice” by Agatha Christie
Molly and Giles have started running a guest house. They’re inexperienced so they’re starting with just a few guests. It’s been cold and now it’s snowing. They hear a news report of a woman who was murdered nearby. Mr. Wren, a talkative man studying to be an architect, is the first to arrive. Mrs. Boyle, an aggressive complainer, is next. As the weather gets worse, there’s concern about getting snowed in.
Some of this story can be read in the preview of Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales. (20% in)
“The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator is sitting with his friend Dupin, an amateur detective. They are joined by the Prefect of the Police, who lays out a case he can’t crack. A letter containing some compromising information has been stolen from a young woman by a government official. The suspect and his home have been searched to no avail.
“The Dead Witness, or, the Bush Waterhole” by Mary Fortune
A detective is riding through the Australian bush and plains. A young photographer who had been staying in a public-house has been missing for a few days. A contact informs the detective that some cattle have uncovered a large blood stain in a field. They make an appointment to investigate the scene.
“Miss Hinch” by Henry Sydnor Harrison
An old woman and a clergyman on the subway talk about the latest sensational story—Miss Hinch, an actress and expert impersonator, killed John Catherwood with a sword. She was seen minutes after the killing, but then seemingly disappeared for the next ten days. With her uncanny ability to become someone else, the police—and a famous detective, Jessie Dark—are stumped.
“A Bottle of Perrier” by Edith Wharton
Medford, from the American School of Archaeology at Athens, goes to visit his friend, Henry, an amateur archaeologist living in the desert. When he arrives, Henry isn’t home. The servant, Gosling, says he was invited to some unexplored ruins. Medford waits for his friend’s return.
“The Cross of Lorraine” by Isaac Asimov
Rubin is hosting the monthly gathering of his club, the Black Widowers. Their custom is to have an interesting guest who agrees to answer all questions put to him. Tonight’s guest is the Amazing Larri, a stage magician who debunks supernatural claims. The conversation eventually turns to a mystery that even Larri can’t solve.