The Nine Mile Walk and Other Stories
First published in 1968, Hutchinson
This edition 1971, Penguin Books
Source: City Bookshop, Norwich
I do not think it was a strong sense of justice that prompted Nicky Welt to come to my assistance on occasion, after I left the Law Faculty to become County Attorney. Rather, I think, it was a certain impatience of mind – like that of the skilled mechanic who chafes as he watches the bungling amateur and at last take the wrench from his hand with a ‘Here, let me do it.’
Harry Kemelman is best known for his 1964 breakthrough mystery Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, but launched his career with the creation of Nicky Welt, an armchair detective who works as Professor of English at Fairfield University but is often on hand to advise his friend the County Attorney. The eight short stories in this book first appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine between 1947 and 1967.
Nicky Welt is no charmer…
He treated me as very much his junior, usually with a touch of condescension, as of the teacher for the not overly bright sophomore, and I fell into the role assigned to me.
… but has a certain charm nonetheless, looking keenly out from beneath bushy white eyebrows and taking a wry amusement from proving himself a better detective than the professionals.
A nine mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain.
In his first outing, ‘The Nine Mile Walk’, Nicky solves a crime without anybody realising there is a crime. By applying his inferential skills to a simple 11-word sentence chosen seemingly at random by the narrator, a murderer is apprehended.
In ‘The Straw Man’, Nicky examines one of those cut-out-of-newspaper ransom notes to expose a most unlikely kidnapper.
In ‘The Ten O’Clock Scholar’ a promising PhD candidate is bludgeoned to death with the handle of a dagger – even though there is a perfectly serviceable bludgeon in the same room.
In ‘End Play’, Nicky notices a curiously set-out chessboard in police photographs of a murder scene.
In ‘Time and Time Again’, the victim is a classically unpleasant magnate with an obsession with time.
The sound of ‘The Whistling Tea Kettle’ in a room occupied by someone who doesn’t like tea allows Nicky to prevent a crime and save the reputation of his University.
In ‘The Bread and Butter Case’, Nicky looks further than the usual suspects when a body in uncovered by melting snow on a city street. But why was the body dumped there instead of nearby countryside?
‘The Man on the Ladder’ is set amidst the personal and professional rivalries at Fairfield University. I found this the most satisfying story, with some great characters among the academics.
All in all, a recommended read. Light, entertaining and tricky mysteries.
See also: Harry Kemelman’s obit in the New York Times
There is a film version of ‘The Nine Mile Walk’ (an almost word for word rendition of the story, but moved to Toledo in Spain) directed by Alvaro Brechner. This stylish short movie can be seen on YouTube.
Final destination: A keeper
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
My first reaction was ‘short stories – not so keen’ but you made them sound really intriguing. I like the idea of the 11-word sentence, the clue of the chessboard etc. I think Edmund Crispin somewhere defines different kinds of crime short stories, and one category is the ‘single idea’ story. It sounds like some of these fit that description.
Got hold of it second hand after reading your review, and have now read it and share your opinion. I did enjoy the cleverness of the stories, though probably shouldn’t have read them all in one go! But I do love the idea of the logical inference. Thanks for the tipoff.
I think that’s always true of short story collections – best read in small doses. Glad you liked it.
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