Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Nine Mile Walk - Harry Kemelman

Theme for the Week: Queen's Quorum Titles

Story: The Nine Mile Walk
Author: Harry Kemelman
Source: The Nine Mile Walk (Queen's Quorum #125). The story can be read online here.
Story Number: 67
Harry Kemelman won the Edgar in 1965 for his first Rabbi Small novel Friday The Rabbi Slept Late (reviewed favorably by Patrick on his blog). But even before this novel was written, Kemelman had a strong fan following for his Nicky Welt stories, the strongest proponent being none other than Ellery Queen as they had featured all the 7 stories in EQMM before the publication of the first novel. There was only one Welt story after he started publishing the Rabbi series. All the stories are collected in the collection The Nine Mile Walk - the final title to be included as a cornerstone in the Queen's Quorum list in 1967. The Queens have this to say about this collection: " ....the Nicky Welt stories which unquestionably perpetuate the purest form of the detective short story, with the author playing fair with the reader from first word to last. All the stories are solved by strict logic and carry on the Dupin-esque-Prince Zaleski-Old Man in the Corner tradition of armchair detection."
The title story, which the author took 14 years to formulate after the idea germinated in his class as an assignment to his students, is one of the most logically deduced stories that one could come across. "An inference can be logical and still not be true," quotes the Snowdon Professor Nicholas Welt. To prove this point, he challenges his friend to give him a random sentence of 10 to 12 words and that he would build a logical chain of inferences. His friend accepts the challenge with this sentence, "A nine mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain." What follows is a serious of inferences - about the man who uttered it, why he uttered it, to which place was he referring to etc. In the end, all of them turn out to be true -culminating in a dead body on a train and the apprehension of the culprits responsible for the foul deed, all deduced from just that one sentence!

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