These short crime stories feature criminals or contain a crime as an important part of the plot. Some are mysteries and in others there’s no doubt about who the criminal is. While some form of theft is probably the most common crime in the stories, they cover crimes of all sorts. It’s hard to beat a crime story for pure entertainment value, so I’m sure you’ll find something enjoyable here. If you’re looking for a specific type of crime or subject, the following have their own pages:
Short Crime Stories
“Honor and . . .” by Sandra Brown and C. J. Box
Joe Pickett is scouting the Gros Ventre Range, filling in as game warden. He hears high snapping sounds in the distance. They were gunshots, and not all of the same caliber. It doesn’t sound like hunters. He weighs his options. Another sound settles it for him.
This story also features Lee Coburn. It can be read in the preview of Matchup. (15% into preview)
“Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes
Mrs. Luella Jones, a large woman with a large purse, is walking home late at night in Harlem. A boy rushes up behind her and tries to grab her purse, but the strap breaks and he falls down. Mrs. Jones grabs the boy and brings him to her apartment. (Summary & Analysis)
Read “Thank You, Ma’am”
“Lamb of God” by Patricia Abbott
Kyle’s mother first tried to kill him when he was nine. He was afraid every day. She had a mental imbalance and was always trying to keep him close to God.
This story can be read in the preview of Kwik Krimes. (30% in) This anthology has 80 very short crime stories.
“Heavy Insurance” by Theodore Sturgeon
Phil is brought down a gloomy corridor to talk to an acquaintance, Al, through a grated window. Al explains what led him to this point. He was in debt and not earning much money when he saw an opportunity.
“Heavy Insurance” can be read in the Amazon preview of The Ultimate Egoist Volume 1: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. (32% into preview)
“Daughter” by Erskine Caldwell
The Sheriff locks up Jim in the town jail. Lots of people come by to get the details, asking him if it was an accident. He says his daughter was hungry, and she had been a lot lately. (Summary)
“If You Want Something Done Right . . .” by Sue Grafton
Lucy is picking up some medication for her husband, Burt, a successful divorce attorney. He needs to stock up while Lucy is away. They were going to go on vacation together for their twenty-fifth anniversary, but Burt pulled out from fear of catching something in India. He also has a history of infidelity. She reaches her breaking point when she hears some news from their estate attorney.
“If You Want Something Done Right. . . ” can be read in the Amazon preview of Deadly Anniversaries: A Collection of Stories From Crime Fiction’s Top Authors. (22% into preview)
“School Shooter” by Dr. Harper
A therapist has been treating a high school boy, Alex, for about a year. He was rejected by a girl and is very angry. Suddenly, he’s calmer because he claims to have figured things out. The therapist is concerned about what this means. He makes a questionable ethical decision to investigate.
Some of “School Shooter” can be read in the Amazon preview of “I’m a Therapist, and My Patient is Going to be the Next School Shooter.” (This book is fiction, and the author is not really a doctor.)
“Trail of the Green Blazer” by R.K. Narayan
In the marketplace, Raju notices a man in a green blazer, who stands out among the crowd. He’s an attractive target, so Raju starts following him at a prudent distance. (Summary)
“The House on Turk Street” by Dashiell Hammett
The narrator is canvassing Turk street, looking for a man. He tells the householders a cover story of trying to locate a man who witnessed an accident. No one saw anything. He gets invited in to an elderly couple’s home. They give him tea, cookies and a cigar. They try to help him, but no one fits the description just right.
“The House of Turk Street” can be read in the preview of The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, and Selected Stories. (Pg 3)
“The .50 Solution” by Lee Child
A rich man approaches an assassin about a job. He’s very particular about the type of weapon that has to be used.
This story can be read in the preview of Bloodlines: A Horse Racing Anthology.
“The Death of Mrs. Sheer” by Joyce Carol Oates
Jeremiah and Sweet Gum, cousins, ride down a dirt road in a dilapidated jalopy. They’ve made some sort of promise to their uncle Simon. Jeremiah pulls into a hotel, which bothers Sweet Gum. He wants to get right to their business. They asks the hotel clerk how to find a man, Nathan Motley. Sweet Gum gets hostile during the exchange. Jeremiah wants to gather some information.
This story can be read in the preview of Extenuating Circumstances: Stories of Crime and Suspense.
“The Malefactor” by Anton Chekhov
Denis Grigoriev is brought before a magistrate after being spotted by the watchman stealing nuts from the rails. Grigoriev is questioned about his crime, and he explains himself.
This story can be read in the preview of Stories of Anton Chekhov. (65% into preview)
“Victory Lap” by George Saunders
Alison Pope, a teenager, daydreams about turning down potential suitors. She looks down on the boy next door, Kyle, whom she used to hang out with as a kid. There is a knock at Alison’s back door. Meanwhile, Kyle, who lives in a regimented household, comes home and finds the chore that’s been left for him. Eventually, he notices a van pull up outside. (Summary)
This is the first story in the preview of Tenth of December: Stories.
“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. (13% into preview)
Crime Short Stories, Cont’d
“The Bad Night” by Lawrence Block
Two young guys are holding Dan at knife point. They’re on the run; they need some food and money. They go to the cave where Dan has been living. Dan’s got a gun there, and he’s hoping he’ll be able to get to it. They tell him to get out his money and food. Dan glances at the shelf where his gun is, and calculates his chances.
This story can be read in the preview of One Night Stands and Lost Weekends. (30% in)
“The Redhill Sisterhood” by C. L. Pirkis
Mr. Dyer explains the situation in Redhill to Miss Brooke. A woman identifying herself as Sister Monica rented a house there. She moved in with three other sisters and a group of sick children. They have a routine of traveling the adjoining villages with their donkey and tin cart, asking for donations. A pattern has emerged—these trips are always followed by burglaries.
This story can be read in the preview of the huge anthology The Big Book of Female Detectives. (28% in)
“How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles” by Lord Dunsany
Mr. Nuth is known as the best burglar in his area. One day he is visited by Mrs. Tonker and her son, Tommy. She wants Nuth to take Tommy as his apprentice. After she produces some evidence of Tommy’s talent, Nuth accepts him.
This story can be read in the preview of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. (66% into preview)
“Blue Book Value” by S. A. Cosby
Trey is out hunting on land owned by the aunt of his friend, Randy. He winged a huge buck and is following the trail. This kill could carry his family through the winter, so he doesn’t want to lose it. He has an encounter with the wounded animal, and also finds something unexpected.
This story can be read in the preview of the anthology Collectibles. (70% into preview)
“Life Sentence” by Matthew Baker
A man, Washington, is brought home by the police to his wife, son and daughter. He doesn’t remember them. He’s still a bit groggy from the procedure. His wife has prepared his favorite meal, but he doesn’t remember that either. He wants to know what he did, but his wife doesn’t want to talk about it. The next day, he gets his first visit from his reintroduction supervisor, who will help him adjust to the change.
This story can be read in the preview of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020. (38% in)
“Phut Phat Concentrates” by Lillian Jackson Braun
Phut Phat has been living in the apartment with his humans, ONE and TWO, for over a year. Life is comfortable with a reliable routine. One Sunday, things seem different. ONE and TWO are distracted, don’t pay him much attention and even forget to feed him for a while. They’re getting ready for something.
This story can be read in the preview of The Cat Who Had 14 Tales. (22% in)
“A Bad Night For Burglars” by Lawrence Block
A burglar is rifling through a drawer in the bedroom. He’s too distracted to hear the homeowner, Archer Trebizond, approaching from behind. He’s surprised, not just at being caught, but at the sight of a gun in Trebizond’s hand. The burglar has had a bad run of luck lately.
This story can be read in the preview of Enough Rope. (7% in)
“A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry
Jimmy Valentine, an expert safe-cracker, is released from jail after serving nearly ten months. The warden urges him to go straight. He goes to see Mike Dolan at his café; Jimmy’s room is upstairs. Starting a week after Jimmy’s release, there’s a string of burglaries. When Jimmy starts going straight he’s faced with a dilemma.
This story can be read in the preview of The Gift of the Magi and Other New York Stories. (14% in)
“Clean Sweep Ignatius” by Jeffrey Archer
When Ignatius Agarbi is appointed Nigeria’s Minister of Finance no one notices. No previous minister had lasted long or accomplished much. Ignatius vows to root out corruption, even among the highest levels of authority. After catching several offenders, General Otobi gives Ignatius a special assignment. (Summary)
Read “Clean Sweep Ignatius” (Page 9)
“The Paperhanger” by William Gay
The doctor’s wife is home with her four-year-old daughter, Zeneib, while workers are renovating the place. She has a hostile exchange with the paperhanger before leaving the room. She goes to her car in the driveway and calls Zeneib. There’s no answer.
This story is in the anthology The Best American Noir of the Century.
“The Fifth Quarter” by Stephen King
Jerry is parked around the corner from Keenan’s house. He has Barney’s gun with him, which might lend a sense of justice to what he’s about to do. He approaches the house cautiously and enters the carport. He hides in the car and waits. After a while, another car pulls in next to him. It’s Sarge, another guy he’s looking for. Unknown to them, Barney was able to reach Jerry before he died, and he told him the story.
“The Green Leaves” by Grace Ogot
African villagers look for a group of cattle thieves. One of the villagers tries to steal from one of the dead thieves.
“The Sentimentalists” by Morley Callaghan
Two young men in a department store notice three young women being watched by the store detective. They bet on which one is really the thief.
Short Crime Stories, Cont’d
“The Parsley Garden” by William Saroyan
A boy, Al, is humiliated after being caught shoplifting. He’s determined to regain his self-respect.
“A Television Drama” by Jane Rule
Carolee is at home when she hears police sirens. She looks out the window at the commotion: neighbors, police on their radios and later, a bleeding young man.
“The Hiding of Black Bill” by O. Henry
A traveler is hired to herd sheep on a ranch. He and the owner talk about a robber, Black Bill, who’s being tracked in the area.
“The Hitch-Hiker” by Roald Dahl
A man picks up a hitch-hiker and asks him about his work, but the hitch-hiker only reveals that he’s in a skilled trade. After talking about how fast the car can go, the driver accelerates, only to be pulled over by the police. He is very worried, but the hitch-hiker isn’t.
“A Lodging for the Night” by Robert Louis Stevenson
On a cold snowy night, a group of thieves are gathered in a small house, writing and gambling. Things suddenly take a violent turn.
“The Judge’s Wife” by Isabel Allende
Nicolas Vidal is the leader of a band of desperadoes and a wanted man. Judge Hidalgo sets a trap for Nicolas that has unexpected consequences, bringing their rivalry to a head.
“After Twenty Years” by O. Henry
A policeman makes his rounds, checking that the shop doors are secured for the night, when he sees a man waiting in an entrance way. The man explains that he and a friend made arrangements twenty years ago to meet there that night.
“The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway
Two hit men, Max and Al, enter a diner to get some food and to wait for their target to arrive. They’re looking for a boxer, Ole Andreson, whom their employer has a grudge against.
“Impulse” by Conrad Aiken
Michael Lowes is a husband and father, but he shirks his duties, spending time out with his friends, moving around, and not keeping jobs for long. During a night of card playing, he and his acquaintances talk about human impulses. Michael remembers an incident from childhood when he stole something.
“A Jubilee Present” by E. W. Hornung
A thief, A. J. Raffles, wants to steal a priceless gold cup from the British Museum. He discusses his plan with his accomplice of melting the cup into a nugget so it can be exchanged for cash.
“A Problem” by Anton Chekhov
The Uskov family has a serious matter to discuss, so they send their servants away for the evening. Sasha Uskov has forged a promissory note and is now in debt. His uncles have gathered to debate the merits of their options: paying the debt to avoid scandal or letting Sasha go to trial and face the consequences of his crime.
“The Substitute” by Francois Coppee
Jean Leturc has been in trouble with the law since he was ten. After many years he finds legitimate work and tries to go straight.
“Gold-Mounted Guns” by F. R. Buckley
Pecos Tommy is an outlaw known for his gold-mounted guns. When a young man decides to start a life of crime, he finds Tommy and asks if he can ride with him. He even has an easy job lined up to get their partnership started.
“The Hitch-Hikers” by Eudora Welty
Tom Harris, a traveling salesman, is driving to Memphis when he picks up two hitch-hikers. Tom stops off at a hotel to find somewhere for his passengers to sleep. While inside, there’s a commotion with his car.
“Barcelona” by Alice Adams
An American couple in Barcelona is out on the street when a man snatches the wife’s purse. Her husband pursues the thief.
Crime Short Stories, Cont’d
“Mandela Was Late” by Peter Mehlman
A parole officer waits for an ex-con, Mandela, to show up for their meeting. He has a pessimistic view of the former criminals he deals with.
“The Donagh; or The Horse Stealers” by William Carleton
The Meehan brothers, and their wives and children, move into the small village of Carnmore. The elder brother, Antony, is cruel looking and fierce. The people are superstitious and believe the Meehans have a deal with the devil. They are mysterious and only associate with a few undesirables.
“Sorrow-Acre” by Isak Dinesen
Adam returns to his family home in Denmark as he is now the heir. A barn belonging to his uncle was burned down, and the main suspect is a young man, Goske. His uncle offers the man’s mother a deal: if she can complete a near-impossible job he will free her son.
“To See the Invisible Man” by Robert Silverberg
A man is found guilty of the crime of coldness and sentenced to a year of “invisibility.” He receives a mark on his forehead that identifies him as someone to be ignored.
“The Stub-Book” by Pedro A. Alarcon
“Uncle” Buscabeatas has cultivated a crop of huge pumpkins. He knows each of his forty pumpkins by look and name. He is sad when the day comes to cut them and bring them to market. When he wakes up that morning he is furious with what he sees.
“Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet” by O. Henry
Jeff Peters relates a scheme he was involved in while posing as a medicine man. After being shut down by the constable, he meets Andy, a man with a similar trade. They want to go in on something together. Jeff gets an emergency summons from the mayor; he is sick and the local doctor is out of town.
“All the Years of Her Life” by Morley Callaghan
Alfred, an adult, is caught stealing from his place of work, a drugstore. His boss calls his mother in to talk before calling the police, but she persuades him not to take the matter further. Alfred is fired.
“Guy Walks Into a Bar” by Lee Child
Jack Reacher, a former military cop, is in a bar in New York. There is a young woman, blonde and rich, who is clearly taken with the band’s guitar player. While scoping out the room, Reacher sees two suspicious guys.
“Trial by Combat” by Shirley Jackson
Emily Johnson, who lives in a boarding house, notices a few small items have gone missing from her room. One day she catches someone leaving her place. She plans to confront the tenant.
“Wild Mustard” by Marcia Muller
While having brunch, Sharon and Greg see an old Japanese woman picking something on a slope above the ruins of the Sutro Baths. They speculate about her and talk about the ruins. Sharon’s interest in the woman grows over a few months.
“The Last Kayfabe” by Ray Banks
The narrator, a former pro wrestler, is making a deal with Leon and Monty. He’s given the money to Leon, but Monty is a bit slow turning over the product.
“Cat’s Paw” by Bill Pronzini
The narrator is hired as an additional night watchman at a San Francisco zoo. Several valuable animals have been stolen recently. The grounds are seventy acres so it’s virtually impossible for the crew to monitor everything. At one point during the night, the narrator and one of the other guards hear a loud noise.
Short Crime Stories, Cont’d
“The Honest Blackmailer” by Patricia Moyes
Harry, after working as a police officer and then a private investigator, became a blackmailer. He set up a profitable business and everything went well for years. When he lost some clients due to events outside his control, he wanted to make up the lost revenue. He chose a politician who had steadily paid for a long time, informing him that their arrangement would have to change.
“The Country of the Kind” by Damon Knight
When the narrator pulls up to a car lot, the attendant recognizes him and shrinks away. The man gets a torch out of the adjacent shed and proceeds to melt parts of his car. He leaves, and coming across a tennis match, he orders the players away. They obey him quickly. He follows one of the players and confronts her. She does her best to ignore him.
“The Marked Man” by Ursula Curtiss
Walter’s face is scratched. A gas station attendant is unconscious on the floor. He needs a place to hide and he has an idea. He finds a phone booth, looks up a name, and calls an old acquaintance, Dex. Feeling obligated to help, Dex thinks he knows a suitable place for Walter to lie low.
“The Bookseller” by Roald Dahl
William Buggage owns a rare book shop where he’s assisted by Miss Tottle. She pays little attention to the shop and Buggage pays almost none. The real money is made in the back room. Today alone, three cheques have come in. They target people with titles and anyone else who has money.
I’ll keep adding short crime stories as I find more.