A Successful Detective Story: “Short Detective Story” by George Saunders

1. Introduction

This essay will analyze the short detective story “Short Detective Story” by George Saunders. It will discuss the genre of the detective story, the plot, setting, theme, and ending of the story. The essay will also argue that the story is a successful detective story.

2. The detective story genre

The detective story is a genre of fiction that typically features a private investigator (or “detective”) who is hired to solve a crime or mystery. The genre began in the 18th century with novels such as Ewald Georg von Kleist’s “The Robber Brothers” (1792) and Mikhail Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time” (1840). The genre became popular in the 19th century with the advent of cheap, mass-produced paperback books. This popularity continued into the 20th century with the works of such authors as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Agatha Christie.

Detective stories often have certain characteristics, including a focus on finding clues and solving puzzles, a sense of not quite knowing why the crime was committed, and following perfectly ordinary men and women who are credulous and naïve in their behavior. The stories are usually set in small cities or towns and often involve youngish, handsome or pretty beyond the norm protagonists.

3. Characteristics of a detective story

“Short Detective Story” has many of the typical characteristics of a detective story. The focus is on finding clues and solving puzzles. The reader does not know why the crime was committed until the end. The protagonist is credulous and naïve in his behavior. And finally, the story is set in a small city.

4. The plot of “Short Detective Story”

The plot of “Short Detective Story” is simple but effective. A man named John Dowd wakes up one day to find that his wife has been murdered. He hires a detective named Harry Doyle to investigate her death. Doyle soon discovers that Mrs. Dowd had been having an affair with another man. He also discovers that John Dowd had been aware of his wife’s affair and had recently bought a gun. Doyle concludes that John Dowd murdered his wife in a fit of jealousy. However, when he confronts Dowd with this evidence, Dowd insists that he did not kill his wife and asks Doyle to continue investigating her death.

5. The setting of “Short Detective Story”

The setting of “Short Detective Story” is important to the plot and atmosphere of the story. The story is set in a small city which is not named but is clearly based on Chicago. The city is described as being dirty and dangerous, with “toxic air [that] made people’s skin break out in rashes”. This setting helps to create an atmosphere of suspense and paranoia. It also helps to explain why John Dowd would be so jealous of his wife’s affair; if she was having an affair with another man, it would be difficult for him to trust her because she could be exposed to danger from the outside world.

6. The theme of “Short Detective Story”

The theme of “Short Detective Story” is jealousy and betrayal. John Dowd’s wife has been unfaithful to him and he is unable to trust her. This lack of trust leads to jealousy and, eventually, murder.

7. The ending of “Short Detective Story”

The ending of “Short Detective Story” is both surprising and satisfying. It is revealed that John Dowd did not kill his wife; she was killed by the man she was having an affair with. This twist gives the story a sense of closure and justice.

8. Conclusion

“Short Detective Story” is a successful detective story because it has all of the typical characteristics of the genre. It is well-plotted, has an interesting setting, and a surprising ending.


The plot of the story is that a detective is investigating a case and trying to solve it.

The main characters in the story are the detective and the people he is investigating.

The story takes place in a city or town.

The detective chooses to investigate this case because he thinks there is something fishy going on.

The detective solves the mystery by finding out who did it and why they did it.

Lessons that can be learned from this story are that you should never give up on your dreams, no matter how hard they seem, and that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.