Mystery Short Stories by Barbara Paul
short mysteries

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"Archimedes and the Doughnuts"
"Auld Lang What?"
"Clean Sweep"
"Close, But No Cigar"
"Eleemosynary, My Dear Watson"
"Favor, The"
"French Asparagus"
"Golden Retriever"  
"Go to the Devil"
"Ho Ho Ho"
"Jack Be Quick"
"Making Lemonade"
"Midnight Sun"
"Okay, Diogenes, You Can Stop
Looking--We Found Him"

"Peanut Butter and Kelly"
"Play Nice"
"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Corpse"
"Reluctant Op, The"
"Secret President, The"
"Shakespeare Minus One"
"Sic Transit Gloria"
"Sleuth of Christmas Past, The"
"Who What When Where Why"
Collection: Jack Be Quick and Other Crime Stories

Peanut Butter "Peanut Butter and Kelly"

This is the first of what I hope will be a whole series of stories. I want to write one short story for each of the secondary figures surrounding my series character, Marian Larch. Actor Kelly Ingram is Marian's best friend and the title character of The Renewable Virgin; but this short story gives Kelly her first chance to play detective herself.

Kelly is making a TV movie in California, and a couple of attempts are made on the life of her co-star...attempts which the rest of the cast and crew nervously dismiss as accidents. Kelly takes it on herself to protect her co-star, whom she doesn't even like much. The story is told in Kelly's own tongue-in-cheek, high-energy, don't-try-to-kid-me first person voice.


  • Murderous Intent, April 1995

Midnight Sun "Midnight Sun"

"We're sending the kitties on vacation," Ed Gorman said on the phone. "Want to come along?"

Thus came about my next contribution to the Cat Crimes series of anthologies. Ed wanted to get an idea of where my vacation story would take place, to avoid having a dozen stories all set at Waikiki or some such. No sooner had he asked the question than the memory of a medieval Norwegian village popped into my head.

I once spent a summer in Norway and I dearly loved the place, but this is the first time I've written about it. In the story, I moved the medieval village farther away from the Lillehammer city limits than it's actually located, because I needed an element of isolation for my plot. But other than that, the village is exactly as I remember it.

tiger In the story six American tourists are trapped in the village by a flash flood, and during the confusion one of them is murdered. It falls upon the Norwegian overseer of the village and his cat to ferret out the guilty party.


  • Cat Crimes Takes a Vacation, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Ed Gorman, Donald I. Fine, 1995, ISBN 1-55611-444-3
    • Ivy Books, 1996, ISBN 0-804-11443-9
  • The Year's 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories, edited by the staff of Mystery Scene, Carroll & Graf, 1996, ISBN 0-7876-0361-X

French Asparagus "French Asparagus"

This story was written for the first anniversary issue of Murderous Intent. Despite its title, "French Asparagus" is not about food and cooking; it's about a bickering family that unexpectedly discovers one of its members is in danger.

The narrator is a police photographer who gets a rude shock from a crime scene she must take pictures of. This particular crime affects her entire family.


  • Murderous Intent (Fall Issue, 1996)
  • Jack Be Quick and Other Crime Stories, Five Star, 1999,
    ISBN 0-7862-1919-X

Sleuth "The Sleuth of Christmas Past"

Another Marty Greenberg anthology. This time it's a collection of Christmas stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

I'd written one earlier story set in Victorian times ("Jack Be Quick") and I enjoyed writing about the period. Besides, who could say no to a chance to do a Sherlock Holmes story? When I told fellow writer and GEnie-buddy David Dvorkin about the anthology, he jokingly asked, "What are you going to call your story -- 'The Sleuth of Christmas Past'?" That title was so absolutely right that I appropriated it for myself right then and there.

The story concerns a recently orphaned young woman and the men in whom her deceased father had placed his trust. One of them violates that trust. Holmes and Watson

"The Sleuth of Christmas Past" is not a parody or an alternate world yarn or anything like that. It's straight Sherlock Holmes. I tried to tell the kind of tale Conan Doyle might have told if he'd written just one more.


  • Holmes for the Holidays, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon L. Lellenberg, and Carol-Lynn Waugh, Berkley Prime Crime, 1996, ISBN 0-425-15473-4
    • Berkley Prime Crime, 1998, ISBN 0-425-16754-2

Gloria "Sic Transit Gloria"

As I mentioned in the section about "Peanut Butter and Kelly", I'm planning to give a short story to each of the supporting figures surrounding my series character, Marian Larch. One of those supporting figures is Detective Gloria Sanchez, working out of the Ninth Precinct in New York City.

The Ninth is one of the roughest precincts in Manhattan, and Gloria is a product of its streets. Half black and half Puerto Rican, she can assume the persona of either culture with equal ease...a talent that has stood her in good stead in her work as a police detective. I wanted to use Gloria's own story to explain something that puzzled Marian Larch in the novels: Gloria's refusal to take the Sergeants Exam.


  • Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (August, 1997)
  • Women of Mystery III, ed. Kathleen Halligan, Carroll & Graf, 1998, ISBN 0-7867-0570-1

Portrait "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Corpse"

Crime through Time is an anthology of historical mystery short stories. For my story, I returned to a period I'd written about before. The time is 1918, the place is the Metropolitan Opera House, and the production is La Bohème. Geraldine Farrar returns to a role she hasn't sung in years, but her task isn't made any easier by Enrico Caruso's irrepressible practical jokes. Then a joke backfires, and a promising young singer lies dead.

Horrified, Caruso insists that was not his practical joke. Farrar believes him and sets out to unmask the real culprit.

I owe the title to M. D. Lake, who claims he didn't have the nerve to use it himself. I held on to it for over a year, until just the right story came along.

Incidentally, this story gave one of my cats her name. She'd just moved in and was in my face the whole time I was writing, demanding constant attention. I got to the part of the story where the tenor sings "Mimi! Mimi!" at the end of La Bohème -- so of course I sang it. And suddenly there's this little cat sitting on my keyboard saying "Pirrup?" Which is cat talk for "You called?"


  • Crime through Time, ed. Miriam Monfredo & Sharan Newman, Berkley, 1997, ISBN 0-0-425-15761-X
  • Jack Be Quick and Other Crime Stories, Five Star, 1999,
    ISBN 0-7862-1919-X
  • Frauen sind die besseren Mörder, Scherz Verlag AG, 2003

Auld Lang What?
"Auld Lang What?"

The stories in this Cat Crimes anthology each take place on a different holiday; mine is set on New Year's Eve. The cat in this one is modeled on the sweetest-natured feline I've ever known -- my cat Slick, who died too young. But Slick sat by the keyboard and watched me write every word of this story in which he had a role. (How did he know?)

"Auld Lang What?" is a "caper" story, the first I've written. It starts with a Mercedes that changes ownership twice in one day, moves to a cat that's being held hostage, and makes its way to a plastic surgery clinic.

SlickA group of small-time car thieves decides to go for the Big Time; an upcoming New Year's Eve party to be held in the posh section of town attracts their attention. Or rather, it's the luxury automobiles that will be parked in the driveway that have them salivating. They lay their plans very carefully.

Does the caper go exactly as planned? Why, you know better than that.


  • Cat Crimes for the Holidays, edited by Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, & Larry Segriff, Carroll & Graf, 1997, ISBN 1-556-11503-2
    • Ivy Books, 1999, ISBN 0-804-11830-2

Brought to Book

"Stet" -- a word every author has written far too many times -- is a story written for a mystery anthology featuring women protagonists who have some connection with books or publishing.

A big change has taken place in mystery publishing over the past ten or twelve years; the tough-talking, trenchcoat-wearing, hardboiled private eye has pretty much been pushed out of the market by the new generation of female investigators. My protagonist is an editor who runs into some lethal backlash against that change.


  • Brought to Book, edited by Penny Sumner, Women's Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7043-4578-1
  • Jack Be Quick and Other Crime Stories, Five Star, 1999,
    ISBN 0-7862-1919-X

"Go to the Devil"

I swear this is the last time I will ever write from the viewpoint of a Tasmanian Devil.

The anthology Pet Detectives was edited by Carole Nelson Douglas, who'd told me that her early submissions were all cat or dog stories. So I thought a story about the worst-tempered creature in the universe might add a little variety. The result is a yarn about a Tasmanian Devil on the lam, one who escapes from the zoo and crosses the path of a killer.

And, no, I didn't tell the whole story from the Devil's viewpoint. That's just an occasional joshing counterpoint to what the humans in the story are doing.


  • Midnight Louie's Pet Detectives, edited by Carole Nelson Douglas, Forge, 1998, ISBN 0-312-86435-3
    • Forge, 2000, ISBN 0-812-57901-1

Secret President

"The Secret President"

For an anthology of mysteries featuring First Ladies, I chose Edith Wilson, the woman who ran the country during the short period the President was incapacitated.

Twice in her life Edith Wilson was forced to step in and take over a man's work for him -- when her first husband died and she found herself in charge of his jewelry business, and when second husband Woodrow Wilson was felled by a stroke. She had to assume these new responsibilities with no experience, and no training. And both times, she brought it off splendidly.

Yet in what's written about her and even in her own writings, this remarkable woman remains remote, perhaps unknowable. She presented a carefully maintained persona to the world, that of loving helpmeet, a very proper First Lady; Edith Wilson almost never dropped her guard. That efficient public mask is frustrating to historians and biographers, but it does allow a little leeway to writers of fiction.


  • The First Lady Murders, edited by Nancy Pickard, Pocket Books, 1999,
    ISBN 0-671-01444-7

Clean Sweep "Clean Sweep"

This is the third of the stories I'm writing for the secondary characters in the Marian Larch series, one story per character. This time out it's Curt Holland  -- one-time FBI agent, current private investigator, and Marian's lover. Marian herself doesn't appear in the story, which is a demonstration of Holland's own twisty form of morality at work. What he does during an investigation of the murder of a sweepstakes winner is not quite legal, but not quite unethical either.

"Clean Sweep" is published in an omnibus paperback, tucked in after a pair of novels by Michael Jahn and Dorian Yeager. A lot of reading for six bucks.


  • A New York State of Crime, edited by Feroze Mohammed, Worldwide, 1999,
    ISBN 0-373-26317-1

Reluctant Op "The Reluctant Op"

Nominated for the Shamus Award.

The title character is a woman just released from prison who is blackmailed into working for the owner of a large, upscale detective agency. Callie Darrow has been a thief and a con artist all her life, but her stint in prison convinced her to look for a better way to live. But her resolution is thwarted by the man blackmailing her, who is forcing her back into that same environment that made her what she is.

I've always wanted to write a waterfront story, and this is it. It's Callie's contacts among the grifters and the thieves and the middlemen and the smugglers that make her so valuable to the detective agency; she can move through the back streets of the waterfront the way no outsider can. So Callie is walking a tightrope; if she fails to come through for the agency, she goes back to prison. And if her old cohorts ever learn she's now on the side of the law, she's dead.


  • Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Sept/Oct, 1999)

Eleemosynary "Eleemosynary, My Dear Watson"

My second Sherlock Holmes story. This one has a jewel theft, a kidnapping, an abandoned Salvation Army building, and Chinese Christmas carolers. Part of the story is set in Limehouse -- Limehouse as it used to be: slums, lowlife, and danger. Holmes and Watson spend Christmas Eve in a way not ordinarily associated with the season, but a man's life is at stake and that changes the rules.

Since David Dvorkin inadvertently supplied me with the title of my first Sherlock Holmes story ("The Sleuth of Christmas Past"), I invited him to come up with a title for this one. He did.


  • More Holmes for the Holidays, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon Lellenberg, & Carol-Lynn Waugh. Berkley, 1999, ISBN 0-425-17033-0

    Golden Retriever "Golden Retriever"

    Nominated for the Shamus Award.

    A Reluctant Op story. A South American mining company hires the Bass Detective Agency to find out who has been diverting their gold shipments to points unknown. One suspect shipment has been traced to a warehouse in the waterfront district of Port Wolfe, and the agency instructs Callie Darrow  -- its most dispensible employee -- to steal the gold.


    • Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Dec 2001)

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    Last updated 15 December 2002.