These short stories have a mystery that gets investigated, often a crime of some sort. The focus is on who committed the crime or how it was carried out, or how a particular situation was resolved. Want to test your own “whodunit” skills? Check out Murder at the Chessboard for 43 short mystery puzzles.
“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 Tuesday Night Club” by Agatha Christie
A group of friends are socializing at the home of Miss Marple when the conversation turns to unsolved mysteries. Each member of the group believes their profession gives them an advantage in crime solving. They decide to take turns telling a crime mystery of which the teller knows the solution. Then they will put their perceptive powers to the test and try to identify the real culprit.
In this first story, Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Miss Clark get sick after supper, and Mrs. Jones dies. Suspicion falls on Mr. Jones because he was dependent on his wife’s money, and due to a letter he wrote. Nothing solidly implicates him for the crime.
This story can be read in the preview of Miss Marple: The Complete Stories. (Kindle version)
“The Bone-Headed League” by Lee Child
An FBI agent who thoroughly enjoys England is assigned to the embassy in London. The work is easy. He liaises with the police when Americans are involved in a crime. One day, he’s called to Baker Street by Scotland Yard. Some details of the case are obvious references to a story he’s familiar with. His enthusiasm for British things takes over.
This story can be read in the preview of The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 10. (29% 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)
“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)
“30 and Out” by Doug Allyn
Jax Ladart has been hired onto the force back in his home county. He’s fresh out of the army, the Military Police. He’s checks in with Sgt. Charles Marx, from Major Crimes, who’s due to retire soon. Marx had helped Jax out years ago, but Jax doesn’t remember him. His attitude about crossing the line has changed. The DEA have requested assistance with locating a motor home in the woods.
This story can be read in the preview of The Mysterious Bookshop Presents the Best Mystery Stories of the Year: 2021. (28% in)
“The Marshalsea Handicap” by Gillian Linscott
The narrator has prepared odds on five inmates of Marshalsea Debtor’s Prison. Mr. Shipman, who they call Father Christmas, has a yearly tradition—he selects one man and pays off his debt. There’s discussion about who is likely to be picked this year. One of the inmates, Mr. Dickens, has a son named Charlie who has impressed Mr. Shipman.
This story can be read in the preview of Dickensian Whodunnits.
“Child’s Play” by Edmund Crispin
Judith has just been hired as governess at the Snyder household. She’ll be caring for the three Snyder children—Eve, Tony and Camilla—and Pamela Catesby, who’s parents were killed a month ago. Judith has misgivings about Mrs. Snyder and her children, but she likes Pamela immediately. Judith tries to help Pamela acclimate to her new home. She also wants to find out what happened to her parents.
This story can be read in the preview of Bodies in the Library 4. (13% in)
“Gold, Frankincense and Murder” by Catherine Aird
Henry Tyler is going to spend Christmas with his sister’s family in rural Calleshire, leaving behind his ambassadorial work in London. Also attending will be other family and friends, including a doctor and his wife, and the owner of a pharmacy. At the request of the rector, there will also be two refugees, the Godieskys. Mr. Godiesky was a chemist at a university before he had to flee.
This story can be read in the preview of The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. (48% 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)
“Screwball Division” by Anthony Boucher
Detective Lieutenant MacDonald talks to the housekeeper about the murder of Father Halloran. He was shot while sitting in his chair. MacDonald tries to get the housekeeper to focus and work out a timeline. They establish he was found between 5:30 and 5:45 in the evening. MacDonald looks at Halloran’s wristwatch—it’s stopped at 7:06.
This story can be read in the preview of Exeunt Murders: The Best Mystery Stories of Anthony Boucher. (18% in)
“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)
“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)
“His Master’s Servant” by Philip Boast
Sir Roger, a Christian knight, prays at the Templar fortress in the Holy Land. His servant calls him for an urgent meeting. The men are all asleep and it’s very quiet. Sir Roger goes to Gondemar’s quarters and is led into the sanctum; Gondemar has ensured secrecy. Sir Roger is shocked to see the King, and even more shocked to see the other guest.
Most of this story can be read in the preview of The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits Volume 3.
“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.
“Slippery Fingers” by Dashiell Hammett
Frederick Grover’s father is found dead in his home on Sunday morning, stabbed with a paper-knife. He had recently withdrawn $10,000 from his bank. Fingerprints at the scene don’t match any of the likely suspects. The Continental Op is called in.
If you like this character, all the stories are available in The Big Book of the Continental Op.
“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)
“Wish You Were Here” by Frank Jones
A woman buys an unusual garden gnome, but it disappears soon after. She starts getting postcards that are signed from the gnome.
“The Witness for the Prosecution” by Agatha Christie
Leonard Vole has been charged with murder, and the case against him is strong. His solicitor, Mr. Mayherne, stresses the importance of frankness—the more he knows, the stronger the defense he can mount. It all started when Leonard did a good deed to an elderly woman. As he tells the story, it turns out the case against him is even worse than he thought.
A lot of this story can be read in the preview of The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories. (10% into preview)
“The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan” by Agatha Christie
Poirot meets the Opalsen’s at a hotel. Mrs. Opalsen insists on showing Poirot some of her jewels. She runs up to her room to get them. Shortly after, a page boy summons Mr. Opalsen upstairs. Poirot notices increased activity among the staff and realizes something has happened.
Read “The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan” (second story in preview)
“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle
A young woman, Helen, makes an early morning visit to Holmes and Watson. She lives with her stepfather, who is known for his outbursts. Her sister died two years before in their home. Her dying words referred to a speckled band. She was engaged at the time. Now, Helen is also engaged, and she’s heard the same type of noise her sister mentioned before she died.
“The Adventure of the Dancing Men” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Holmes shows Watson a piece of paper with drawings of stick figures that look like dancing men. Watson believes them to be a child’s work. Mr. Cubitt has sent it to Holmes, and he’ll be arriving shortly. He’s been finding them around his house, and they seem to mean something to his wife, Elsie.
“The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds” by Neil Gaiman
A private detective sits in his office drinking and cleaning his gun. A beautiful woman comes in and shows him a picture of a dead man. She says he was her brother. The death was ruled an accident but she believes he was murdered.
“The Necklace of Pearls” by Dorothy L. Sayers
Sir Septimus throws an annual old-fashioned Christmas party at his country house. After the dinner he likes to play the same games each year. On Christmas Eve he also has the tradition of giving his daughter Margharita a pearl for her necklace. This year, in addition to the three members of his family, he has eleven guests. During the evening, it’s noted that something has gone missing.
“The Crooked Man” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Colonel James Barkley is found dead in his home, and his wife, Nancy, is the prime suspect. Holmes is called to investigate.
“The Bruce-Partington Plans” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Holmes is bored with the caliber of crime in London when he receives a telegram informing him of an urgent visit from his brother Mycroft. A young man was found dead on the train tracks. He had on him the plans for a top secret government submarine; the most important pages were missing.