Who doesn’t love a good mystery short story? Like many, I was hooked into the mystery genre by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Each one was a bite-sized package of suspense laced with danger and tied up with a tidy, cerebral conclusion. Since reading the Holmes tales, I’ve become a huge fan of mystery fiction and would probably describe it as my favorite genre of all.
As you can tell by my list of the best YA short story anthologies, I’m big into short fiction collections. It’s a perfect way to be introduced to new genres and authors. In this article, I’m recommending great collections of mystery short stories. You’ll find some of the best mystery anthologies of the best crime short stories here, featuring a wide breadth of the genre’s most celebrated and overlooked authors, past and present.
The Best American Mystery Stories series
This is a recurring series that is each year edited by a leading author, like James Patterson, Louise Penny, and Elizabeth George, with Otto Penzler as the series editor. The stories that qualify have been published in a periodical. If you want to get introduced to some of the best mystery writers, this series is a great way to do just that as you’re reading stories by prominent and up-and-coming authors who are publishing right now.
How to read it: Purchase The Best American Mystery Stories 2018 on Amazon and add it on Goodreads.
The Best American Noir of the Century – edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler
Noir fans will definitely want to pick up The Best American Noir of the Century, edited by legendary neo-noir author James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. From James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith to contemporary noir masters like Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, and Harlan Ellison, this anthology of short noir fiction is a must-read. (And yes, that’s the same Otto Penzler who is the series editor of The Best American Mystery Stories series. This prolific editor has arranged several themed anthologies of short fiction. His name is a hallmark sign of quality and expertise. Any anthology by him will put you in good hands.)
How to read it: Purchase The Best American Noir of the Century on Amazon and add it on Goodreads.
The Big Book of Female Detectives – edited by Otto Penzler
Some of the genre’s most famous sleuths are female, and it is precisely those detectives and PIs that you’ll find in The Big Book of Female Detectives, another excellent anthology by Otto Penzler. In this epic collection of 74 short works suspense fiction, take a tour through history’s greatest female detectives as Penzler shines a light on lesser-known, overlooked, and influential stories featuring kickass ladies who solve crime.
How to read it: Purchase The Big Book of Female Detectives on Amazon and add it on Goodreads
The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries – edited by Otto Penzler
My last Otto Penzler anthology, I swear, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to plug this one. Of all the subgenres within the mystery, thriller, and suspense genre, my absolute favorite is the locked-room mystery. In these “impossible crimes,” the crimes defy logic: a girl who somehow managed to disappear from a remote island (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a man dies under puzzling circumstances locked in his study (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), and more. Who could the villain be? It must be someone on the scene… but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy solve. I just love these tales that tickle the brain and befuddle even the most intelligent detectives. And here in this mega anthology, you’ll find some of the greatest locked-room mysteries. An all-star cast of writers, like Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, pepper this essential collection of 68 of the best crime short stories.
How to read it: Purchase The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries on Amazon and add it on Goodreads
A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women – edited by Elizabeth George
Powerhouse mystery writer Elizabeth George, best known for her Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley series, anthologizes mystery short stories by female writers. George starts with some of the earliest women authors of the genre, from 1917 to 2009. George provides illuminating introductions to each piece, providing a biography of the writer and situating her within her cultural and historical context. Anyone who thinks that crime fiction was strictly a male endeavor could stand to read this anthology.
How to read it: Purchase A Moment on the Edge on Amazon and add it on Goodreads
Odd Partners: An Anthology – edited by Anne Perry
This collection by the Mystery Writers of America focuses on a theme: unforgettable—and often unlikely—duos in crime fiction. If you love the quirky, affectionate relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, add this to your TBR. If you adore epic clashes between arch-enemies, you’ll also want to add this to your TBR. And if you want to see how far the idea of “odd partners” goes, like crime-fighting partnerships between animals and humans, put Odd Partners on your TBR. Edited by acclaimed mystery author Anne Perry, Odd Partners includes writing by bestselling, Award-wining, and promising young authors, like Jeffrey Deaver, Charles Todd, Jacqueline Winspear, and many more.
How to read it: Purchase Odd Partners on Amazon and add it on Goodreads
Tiny Crimes – edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto
If you only have a few minutes to spare, but you’re dying for some of the best mystery short stories, you’ll want to pick up the anthology Tiny Crimes. Edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto, Tiny Crimes spotlights micro fiction and flash fiction (stories that are very short, sometimes even only a page long) that deal with the theme of crime. This quick read shows off how nimble writers can be about packing a ton of emotion, suspense, and tension into a small space.
How to read it: Purchase Tiny Crimes on Amazon and add it on Goodreads
The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime – edited by Michael Sims
What is “gaslight crime,” you might be asking? This term simply refers to crime fiction that was written during and often set during the era when streets were illuminated by gaslight, as opposed to the modern era where streetlight are electric. In The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime, anthologist Michael Sims, assemble a bang-up introduction to mystery short stories from this era, tales from H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis, and others, that feature famous detectives, rogue scoundrels, and legendary criminals who thrilled readers during the gaslight days. Read more about this book in an interview with Sims here.
If you liked this anthology, consider also checking out The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime, also edited by Michael Sims, which highlights female characters in crime fiction during the Victorian days. I didn’t include it here because… well, space!
How to read it: Purchase The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime on Amazon and add it on Goodreads
The Noir Series by Akashic Books
This long-running series collects noir short stories set in a particular location, like New Orleans, Amsterdam, and Berlin, but also settings like Wall Street and Prison. Chances are they’ve put together an anthology about your country, region, or city. I’m highlighting the Philadelphia book here since that’s closest to me. You can find the complete list on Akashic Books’ website.
How to read it: Purchase Philadelphia Noir on Amazon and add it on Goodreads
FaceOff – edited by David Baldacci
This unique collection pits rival enemies, detectives, and villains against each other. You’ll recognize these characters from the pages of famous mystery and thriller writers. For example, Michael Connelly’s cop hero Harry Bosch goes head-to-head with Patrick Kenzie from Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro series. If you love these stories, you’ll definitely want to check out the sequel, MatchUp, which focuses on beloved heroes and heroine from mystery fiction working together.