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Short Stories

Reading bite-sized stories are a great way to test out a new genre or author. This week, Sarah and Brook share some of their favorite short stories.

Works and authors mentioned

“The Three Apples” 1001 Nights

Gongan Stories




“The Lottery” (1948) Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House (1959) Shirley Jackson

“The Tell-tale Heat” (1843) Edgar Allan Poe

The Cask of Amontillado” (1846) Edgar Allan Poe

“The Monkey’s Paw” (1902) WW Jacobs

“A Terribly Strange Bed” (1852) Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone (1868) Wilkie Collins

Six Against the Yard (1937) The Detection Club

FaceOff (2015) Thriller Writers of America

“The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb” (1924) Agatha Christie

Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries (2014) Otto Penzler (ed.)

The Adventures of Philip Marlowe

The Cabinet of Curiosities (2022) Netflix

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries (2022)

For more information

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Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com


SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook. And we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookSarah, it’s so good to be talking with you again.
SarahI know I’ve said it before, but this is my favorite time of the week.
BrookSame here. So today we’re going to be talking about short stories and Sarah has a little summary to start us off.
SarahThe short story has roots in narrative tradition, or storytelling, stretching back to our earliest ancestors. In our historical mystery episode, we learned that some of the earliest historical mysteries were actually short stories. And I gave the examples of the “The Three Apples” from 1001 Nights and Gongan stories featuring Judge Dee and Judge Bao.

Modern mystery fiction has no shortage of short stories to choose from. The earliest authors of crime fiction, many of whom we’ve spoken about on past episodes, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Anna Catherine Green, and Wilkie Collins published multiple short stories. So, readers have lots of options to choose from.

And of course Agatha Christie has some masterful examples. Readers can find sorry readers can find short stories from many mystery subgenres and these are great ways to so either sample an author or a subgenre if you don’t want to commit to a full-length novel. This is the same if you’re watching TV. You can watch an episode of a crime show like

Monk or Bones or CSI and most of the time everything is wrapped up at the end. Which I think for me at least is one of the things that I find most satisfying about short stories. They can usually be finished in one sitting, though there isn’t a standard definition or length or word count. And how you and I define a sitting might vary. As an author, I appreciate the skill required to write a short story. I haven’t managed to write one yet. But I think it would be fun to give it a try. So, Brook, I thought today we could start by talking a little bit about some of our favorite short stories or short story collections.
BrookI would love to. I read a bulk of short stories. I mean we all do when we’re probably high school students. It’s definitely something that in our curriculum. But then, I went on to do a English lit major. And you know that was a way for us to survey an entire era of literature or a genre or maybe a large work of an author in a really short matter of weeks. So, we read lots and lots of short stories, which I much preferred over the whole excerpt technique. That’s not nearly as satisfying. So, I think if I look back some of the favorite ones that I read over the years were “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, who she also wrote The Haunting of Hill House. Of course my Poe stories “Tell-tale Heart” and “The Cask of a Amontillado”. And I loved “The Monkey’s Paw,” which for a lot of years I actually accidentally attributed to Poe. Because it has that very Poe vibe to it. But it’s actually written by W.W. Jacobs.
SarahOh yeah, those are those are great short stories. Yeah, you’re right. “Monkey’s Paw” definitely feels like a Poe story. Oh yeah.
BrookAnd it’s much much later. You know, he wrote that in 1902 and Poe was writing in the 1840s so it’s interesting to see that thread of a style going through. And this week, to get ready for the show, because you had already read “A Terribly Strange Bed” and I had not, so I read that this week and I felt like that same very gothic eerie tone to that story as well. Which I loved.
SarahYeah, and so that’s a Wilkie Collins short story and I really enjoyed that. And I think one of the things one of the other things that I really like about short stories is they’re very accessible. And again, I think that’s because of their length. But I actually found “A Terribly Strange Bed” easier to read than The Moonstone. It just is for whatever reason. Maybe because every word counts in a short story, it’s just more accessible.
BrookYeah, absolutely. I think that that’s true for any of the older authors that we look at from the you know, maybe early eighteen hundreds or early nineteen hundreds, the writing style was much more verbose. And so, I agree The Moonstone while the story was pretty intriguing, it was a very lengthy book to get through. And I found myself really liking Wilkie Collins’ style and approach so much more through the short story. And I think it was maybe because we didn’t have like the long pages worth of description of something because like you say every word counts in a short story.
SarahSo, I thought I would share a few examples of either short stories or short story collections if listeners were looking for a particular subgenre. So, I’m going to start with a collection that was published by the Detection Club. And so listeners will remember that this is a invitation-only group of authors that was started in the 1930s And some of the original members published a book, sorry, an anthology of stories, called Six Against the Yard. So it was originally published in 1937 and re-relased in 2014 with an essay in in the twenty fourteen version. It includes an essay by Agatha Christie in in this book. Each author has tried to write a perfect murder and real-life Scotland Yard superintendent comments on each story explaining how he solved it and how it wasn’t actually a perfect murder. So the authors of the stories include Anthony Berkeley Freeman Willscroft, Marjorie Allingham, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L Sayers, and Russell Thorndike so this is a really great sample of stories from Golden Age authors. And at the time when this was published, they would have been amongst the best of the genre and they I mean they still are.
SarahI don’t know if these are the best stories that that these authors wrote because I haven’t read anything else by some of them. But I really like the premise. I really enjoyed—I actually listened to this and I really enjoyed it especially that kind of the debrief from the from the superintendent.
BrookYeah, that sounds fantastic I would love to grab that one too. Sarah.
SarahAnother example of an anthology published by a group of writers. This time it’s from the Thriller Writers of America and they’ve published several anthologies. And one that I enjoyed from them was called FaceOff, which was edited by David Baldacci and all of the stories are co-written. So, two well-known thriller authors pair up their characters. For example. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller. And they put them in a situation that obviously they would never encounter in their in their in their series. But it’s kind of like a crossover episode that you would that you sometimes get in tv. And Dave Baldacci introduces each story and talks about how the authors approached writing it and that for me was as interesting as the stories because you know I just like hearing how how stories come to be.
So, let’s talk a little bit about Agatha Christie and all of the short stories that she wrote. So, she published 14 collections of stories featuring fifty stories with Poirot as the detective, 20 with Miss Marple, several with Tommy and Tuppence and as well there were several that were standalone that didn’t feature one of her famous detectives. Some of those collections are a sample of stories featuring you know, multiple different characters. And others just feature one sleuth so you know there’s some collections that are just in the Marvel stories or just Poirot stories. And then there’s The Last Séance which is you know some of her spookier tales and then there’s one that is you know winter themed mysteries one that’s summer. Brook, do you have a favorite Christie short story?
BrookOh, that’s a hard one, Sarah I think that I would pick something from The Last Séance. I really loved that collection. You’ve got a little bit of psychological thriller. You get some detection fiction. And those are such two different skill sets to write, such different kinds of stories. So, I really enjoyed that collection. And I loved “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb.” That’s a Poirot short story. I love Ancient Egypt and it’s a great story and you get all of Poirot just packed into one sitting. It’s really great.
SarahI have to say I actually think I prefer the Poirot short stories to the Poirot novels. And again, you know I don’t know if that’s like we said with Wilkie Collins because I think Agatha Christie’s writing is pretty accessible whether you’re reading one of her novels or one of her short stories. But there’s something a little punchier I think with Poirot short stories than in the in the novels. Ah, so when I was doing a little bit of research for this episode, Brook, I realized that G K Chesterton, who was one of the Detection Club members, his series Father Brown is exclusively short stories.
BrookI did not know that. Well having them written as short stories that explains why they were so great as television episodes.
SarahExactly. It’s like he it’s almost as if he wrote them for TV, although of course he didn’t. There’s a bookshop in New York called the Mysterious Bookshop I think and its founder Otto Penzler has edited several collections of short stories in different themes. So, there’s one the Black Lizard Book of Locked Room Mysteries and I really enjoyed this because it had some surprises. There was a Sherlock Holmes story written by Stephen King.
BrookOh wow.
SarahYeah, I thought that was that was really cool. But there’s one around hard-boiled and noir detective fiction. So, a collection of short stories around that. So, I would encourage anyone to check out any one of those collections if they were looking for a particular theme. Additionally, if someone was looking for hard boiled or noir, I would point them to some of the radio dramas that were produced in the 1940s and fifties.

So, there’s the Adventures of Philip Marlowe and I believe there’s also a series featuring Sam Spade as the detective. And you know you can find those I think there’s lots of places to find those online if you’re if you’re looking to hear some of these stories and those are excellent ones to listen to. And again, if you’re reading a short story, it’s just a much shorter commitment that you’re making to see if this is something that you’re really interested in in reading more of.
BrookThe fact that short stories are such a great entry point into mystery fiction is probably one of my favorite things about them. Recently a friend was asking, her daughter’s fourteen fifteen, I would say, and she was saying you know, do you think that she would enjoy Agatha Christie? Because she likes to read cozy mystery in this from contemporary authors and I said “you know get her to read a couple of the shortest stories because sometimes especially for a younger reader a whole novel of any of the Golden Age authors might be a little overwhelming”. But once you have experienced a short story and you understand how an author how they write how they describe things the way that they even plant clues and wrap things up then I think you’d be more ready to grab a longer a longer piece. And I also think that they’re so great because you know I hit a bad reading slump during the pandemic. I think a lot of us probably did and then even to get back into because then it had been such a long time since I’d picked up a thick book. And so I think short stories can be a great way to get yourself out of a reading slump you get the payoff sooner as you said you know it’s a one or two hour investment of your time and it kind of helps you remember why you love reading and maybe kind of dip your foot back in.
BrookAnd as you’re making all these great suggestions, I this last week realized that I’ve been seeing on Netflix The Cabinet of Curiosities and didn’t really register what they were but they are six standalone mystery horror stories. So, I think we get really used to on some of the streaming providers that there are episodes that are continuous you know to tell the story, but what’s great about these are these are six standalones. So, they very much are in that short story tone and vibe. You’re going to love these. So, if you’re looking for a television example of these. I think they also—and this is something I find in short story mysteries much more—do you often feel like sometimes there’s like a moral of the story. Or sort of like a message built in underneath more so than with like a novel.
SarahYeah, it’s interesting you say that. I mean I think that’s the maybe that’s the history of short story. Maybe in that observation you’re seeing the history of short story right? Because I think a lot of early stories that were being told had that you know moral of the story lesson that was behind the story, right?
BrookRight. The cautionary tale.
SarahExactly. So, in terms of Agatha Christie short stories, there actually was a series of 12 new Miss Marple stories that was commissioned by the Agatha Christie estate and released earlier this year featuring Ruth Ware, Ellie Griffiths, Lucy Foley and so these authors write more suspense type books but have written some each of them has written a Miss Marple story. And I haven’t read any of them yet. But definitely something that I’m going to be checking out soon.
BrookI have sampled just a couple. And you’re in for a treat, Sarah. I am so blown away by the way these authors can take on the voice of Agatha. And I can’t wait for us to both read it and then discuss what we have to say about the different stories.
SarahSo thanks, Brook I think this has been a really great conversation about short stories and some ideas for people who might be looking to read in a different genre.
BrookI agree. In this time of year, when you have maybe some time off work during the holidays, it’s a great time to pick up a short story and enjoy. So, for today everyone, thank you so much for joining us on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah. And we both love mystery.