Twenty Short Stories That Pack a Full-Size Punch: Part 1

Here’s what is great about short stories, novellas, and Kindle specials–they are cheap, quick to read, and most importantly, can provide insight and depth to some of the best series protagonists in circulation today.

They can also serve as the perfect appetizer story to a full-course novel, a tactic many of today’s most famous authors use to keep their readers’ hunger in check. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of twenty short stories (broken down into two separate articles) that I personally recommend thriller fans check out.

Start with these ten awesome mini-reads, and check back for the second part of the list in July!

index1.) The Athens Solution – Brad Thor

The Athens Solution is Brad Thor’s first ever short story and was originally part of the International Thriller Writers anthology, titled Thriller. Thor released an updated version of the short story on Kindle back in December of last year, which also includes an exclusive afterword.

So why does The Athens Solution come in at #1 on our list? Simply put, nobody packs as much action into fifty pages as Brad Thor!

When a new type of super-weapon falls into the wrong hands, the U.S. Ambassador to Greece is tasked with recovering it. Things take a shadowy turn, making The Athens Solution heavy on conspiracy–which is why Scot Harvath is brought into the fold. As a traitor emerges, Harvath takes him on in pulse-pounding, high-octane fashion.

Soon, bullets are flying and pages are turning as readers race to see how this story comes to a close. Trust me, it’s well worth the $0.99 price tag, and then some.

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51gW0evhJUL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_2.) White Death – Ted Bell

I’ve been saying for a long time that Ted Bell (along with Daniel Silva) is one of the best pure writers penning thrillers today. Bell’s Alex Hawke series is as good as any, and a must-read for fans of political thrillers.

The majority of Bell’s novels are a little on the long side (hey, I’m not complaining, I’ll take all that I can get!) and feature his mesmerizing writing style intertwined with action. A true wordsmith, Bell writes with a unique cadence to his  dialogue and sentence structure. For this reason, it’s easy to read his books slowly, savoring each and every page.

While Bell’s novels are a savory treat, his short stories pack a quick knockout punch that will thrill readers and leave them begging for more. This is especially true with White Death, Bell’s second novella about a conspiracy involving a Swiss banker who is found dead high up in the Alps.

When concerns rise over the banker’s connection to the British royal family, the Chief of British Intelligence calls on MI6 officer Alex Hawke to collect the pieces and solve the puzzle. But to do that, Hawke must make the dangerous climb up a portion of the Swiss Alps that is essentially a sheet of ice, in less than favorable conditions–and that’s only the beginning.

Coming in at just over two hundred pages, Ted Bell packs a stunning amount of substance into White Death. Plus, he brings the action–and plenty of it.

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51FUa6ERc4L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_3.) Plan B – Joseph Finder

Joseph Finder is a master novelist, known primarily for penning standalone stories–which he did for years before finally settling on a series protagonist named Nick Heller. 

Heller, a private spy for hire, is a brilliantly crafted character. He’s introduced in Vanished (2009) and returned for Buried Secrets (2011). The third novel in the series, Guilty Minds, comes out this July and is one of my very favorite books of the year. 

Plan B takes place between Vanished and Buried Secrets and features an action-packed kidnapping plot that will keep readers guessing until the final page. 

On a job in Barcelona, Nick Heller is tasked with rescuing a girl who is being held inside a secure compound against her will. Plan A is to get inside, grab the girl, and then get back out without setting off the alarm or alerting any guards. Things, though, don’t go according to plan, so Heller is forced to switch to Plan B. 

I feel like I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t warn you that this story ends pretty abruptly. Just as you’re settling in, ready to spend the day following Nick around, it’s over. It will definitely leave you jonesing for more, which is okay since your fix is right around the corner with Guilty Minds

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51f-Rgr1APL._SX387_BO1,204,203,200_4.) Gut Instinct – Brad Taylor

Gut Instinct takes place between Brad Taylor’s full-length novels All Necessary Force and Enemy of Mine, which are the second and third books in his Pike Logan series. 

In Gut Instinct, Pike Logan is recovering from injuries he previously sustained. In fact, Pike isn’t of much use, nor is he the main character here. Jennifer Cahil is, taking the lead when another Taskforce team needs a female operative for a specific mission. 

Earlier in the series, Jennifer runs into her ex-husband, Chase, who is a real piece of work. After being physically abused by him for years, Jennifer finally unleashes on Chase–delivering him a thorough beating from head to toe.  Beyond that, the story revolves around a terrorist plot and Jennifer’s “gut instinct” that Taskforce leaders are zeroing in on the wrong targets. Following her own intuition, she and Pike take matters into their own hands.

This short story is a real treat for fans of Taylor’s Pike Logan series and anyone else looking for a quick, awesome read. 

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142882445.) Tracker – James Rollins

Falling between The Devil Colony (2011) and Bloodline (2012), this Sigma Force short story follows Tucker Wayne and his war dog, Kane, as they attempt to help a woman in search of her father. 

Set on the streets of Budapest, Tucker and Kane find themselves mixed up in some trouble when they observe an attractive young woman, Aliza, being followed. Stepping in to save her, they discover that she’s searching for her father, who was kidnapped while searching for Jewish treasures that had been confiscated from the Nazis many years prior. 

Upon learning that the men following Aliza are actually NSZ (Hungary’s equivalent of America’s FBI), Tucker forms a plan and takes action–using Kane, a Belgian Malinois Shepherd, as his secret weapon. 

The only drawback to this short story is that it’s a tad too short and left more to be desired. In the long run, that’s fine, as Rollins has since teamed with Grant Blackwood to write two full-length Tucker Wayne (and Kane) spinoff novels: The Killswitch and War Hawk.  

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611Sm8zDuAL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_6.) Soft Targets – John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap writes one of the most underrated series in the thriller genre. His Jonathan Grave franchise is the real deal, and Gilstrap keeps getting better and better with each new book.

Soft Targets is essentially an introduction to the entire series, going back and showing a glimpse of Grave during his younger days–and how he got into the hostage and rescuing business in the first place.

When FBI Agent Irene Rivers’ (who later on in the series becomes the Director) daughters are kidnapped by a man who is both a murderer and a child molester, she becomes desperate to get them back. The problem is that Irene has sworn to follow the law at all times, and the law isn’t getting her anywhere. Therefore, she turns to a man who operates outside of the law.

Jonathan Grave works in the shadows, willing to break whatever laws necessary to help his clients. Especially this time! 

Coming in at just over a hundred pages, Soft Targets is a fun, action-packed read that provides much-needed insight into Gilstrap’s main hero.

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51nO3d1qRDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_7.) Bullseye – David Baldacci 

With multiple hit series to his name, David Baldacci is one of the most famous–and best-selling–authors on the planet. This novella marks the first time Baldacci merged two of his franchises, mixing super assassin Will Robie with Oliver Stone from The Camel Club

Oliver and Robie just happen to be among those present during a bank robbery and are both taken hostage along with the rest of the innocent bystanders. It doesn’t take long, though, for both men to realize there is more than just a heist at play.

The fun starts when the duo decides to team up to stop the bad guys, mixing in old school tactics (Oliver) with younger, brute force (Robie). The two characters, with so vastly different personalities, are a real treat to read together. Their flaws come out, making Bullseye one of the few novellas or short stories that actually add depth to a leading, series-starring character–and in this case, two of them!

Note: This short story was originally written to hold off readers’ appetites leading up to the release of Baldacci’s third novel in his Will Robie series, The Hit. There’s been another full-length novel added to the franchise since then called The Guilty. Bullseye can be read out of order or by new readers of the series, as it’s a standalone story.

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514RHd9POcL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_8.) Switchblade – Michael Connelly 

Written and released just before Michael Connelly’s twenty-third Harry Bosch novel, The Crossing, this short story features Connelly’s fictional LAPD detective following up an anonymous tip about a crime that’s remained unsolved for decades. 

The cold case that needs solving revolves around a teenage prostitute who was murdered in the early 1990s. When a well-informed tip comes in, Bosch has to find a way to prove it without the benefit of a body, DNA, or a crime scene to analyze. Fear not, though, because he has a few tricks up his sleeve and immediately gets busy looking for answers. 

Switchblade, released on Kindle, is only a tick over twenty pages long, but what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for with a surprising twist at the end. Connelly’s short story is a fun, easy read for anyone on the hunt for a good, quick mystery story. 

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51Sg7xCaHYL._SY490_BO1,204,203,200_9.) The Master Falconer – C.J. Box

C.J. Box’s most famous character, without question, is Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett. Joe, the protagonist of sixteen novels, including this year’s Off The Grid (one of my personal favorites so far in 2016), is loved by fans because he is so relatable. Your average hard-working family man just busting his hump to make ends meet, Joe Pickett is just like the rest of us. 

So while Joe is the affable, everyday red-blooded American, Box’s most mysterious (and lethal) character is Nate Romanowski–who was first introduced in the third Pickett novel, Winterkill

Nate is a master falconer who, before hunting with his birds, was an elite Special Forces soldier. While Joe is a lousy shot with his state-issued pistol and anything but a tough-guy, Nate is the total opposite. Packing one of the world’s most powerful handguns, which he shoots with incredible accuracy, Romanowski is the type of larger-than-life character you’d expect to see starring in this particular genre. 

This short story, which sees Nate taking on a shadowy figure who comes looking for some trouble, does a terrific job filling in some of the holes from Romanowski’s past. If you’re a fan of this series, you simply have to read this eBook special! 

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51eXk29xskL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_10.) Deep Down – Lee Child

In this exhilarating short story, released as an eBook special on Kindle, Jack Reacher must find a way to expose a mole who is leaking classified information. 

Someone is whispering secrets about a new state-of-the-art, high-powered sniper rifle designed for the United States Special Forces. The government, in an effort to make sure this information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, tabs Reacher to plug the leak. 

In Washington, Reacher is tasked with meeting and having drinks with four officers, during which he is to try and expose one of them as the mole in question. This mission, which is supposed to be quick and easy, turns into anything but, as Reacher once again finds himself in a situation that is more dangerous than he originally thought possible.

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