A 9 mile walk is no joke...

…especially in the rain. Anyone remember this short mystery story? I read it sometime back in the late 70s, early 80s in a collection of Mystery/Horror short stories aimed at elementary school kids, which is where I read it. (This collection had things like Poe’s “the Black Cat” and a “thinking machine” story in it)

The story is about two guys who place a bet in a pub about how much one can deduce from a short sentence made up by the other. The sentence they come up with “A nine mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain” leads them through all sort of fascinating deductions about who might have said it, where he might live, what would be at the end of such a walk, why he wouldn’t take a train, that sort of thing. The end of the story has them reading a newspaper article describing a man murdered on a train who fits all of their deductions to a T.

Any idea what this story was? Who wrote it?

The Nine-Mile Walk is by Harry Kemelman, and is a collection of his Nicky West stories, according to http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/kemelman.htm .

I thought this was going to be a thread by some gal who went on a date and then had to walk home after she wouldn’t give the guy what he expected.

HE: Do you believe in the Here-after?

SHE: What do you mean?

HE: If you ain’t here after what I’m here after, you’ll be here after I’m gone!

She offered her honor,
he honored her offer,
and after that, it was on’er, off’er all night

It wasn’t a nine-mile walk, but I did have to walk maybe two or three miles in the rain once because I had to get to the nearest busline to get home. I got a nifty case of immersion foot, which is NO FUN!

That’s the price of keeping your virtue.


I too read that collection of mysteries. The three I remember from it are the 9-mile walk story, the “thinking machine” in jail story, and a third story about a crooked newspaper-man who tries to frame someone to get a good story - “Alexander’s ragtime band” is a recurring theme in that one.

Don’t remember any of the other stories in the collection.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world, Sammy, and I’m wearing Milk-Bone™ underwear.”

Seven Great Detective Stories, William H. Larson, ed. (Racine, WI: Whitman/Western Publishing CO., 1968). The stories are “Suspect Unknown” by Courtney Ryley Cooper; “The Blast of the Book” by G.K. Chesterton; “The Missing Undergraduate” by Henry Wade; “The Problem of Cell 13” by Jacques Futrelle; “Silver Blaze” by Arthur Conan Doyle; “The Nine-Mile Walk” by Harry Kemelman; and “The Man in the Velvet Hat” by Jerome and Harold Prince. (Nothing by Poe, so either sliv misremembered the contents of the collection, or else we’re talking two different anthologies here.)

That’s the one I was thinking of, MEBuckner. Now that you’ve posted it, I remember all of the stories except the first one - what was it about?

If the poor fellow was murdered on a train, what was the purpose of the nine mile walk?

Yes, a nine-mile walk is no joke, especially in Army basic training in full uniform with a huge backpack in 20-degree weather. Blister city when you get home, let me tell you.

jti, I don’t have that collection in front of me right now; I think “Suspect Unknown” was an FBI procedural, but I’ll have to look it up later.

As mentioned earlier, the story was by Harry Kemelman, who’s best known for his mystery novels featuring Rabbi David Small.

I haven’t read the story in years, but the essence of it was, two men were discussing the ambiguities of the English language. One suggested that you could deconstruct ANY phrase to mean almost anything. To prove the point, he asked for a random phrase. His friend gave him the phrase “A 9 mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain.”

His deconstructive friend took that phrase, and drew up an elaborate scenario involving a murder on a train. And sure enough… it turned out that a murder EXACTLY like the scenario described really had happened! Apparently, the “random” phrase about a 9 mile walk was NOT a random, made-up phrase at all- the man who offered it had overheard one of the murder conspirators saying it, and it had stuck with him.

the reason for the nine mile walk was that the murderer knew his victim would be on the train in a particular stop, and walked there, rather than take the public transit, drive a car, etc. - walking being the most anonymous means of transportation in a reasonably well-settled area.

ME - you’re right bout the FBI procedural, now that you’ve jogged my memory - I remember a hair-plucking incident that provided the match they needed.

Er… mot exactly, astorian.

The conversation between the two men, over breakfast in a cafe, was about inferences. Nicky, the “armchair detective,” of the pair, told his friend that an inference can be logical and still not be true. In fact, he challenged, “Give me a sentence of ten or twelve words, and I’ll build you a chain of inferences you never dreamed of when you thought of the sentence.”

The friend tells him, “A nine mile walk is no joke, especially in the rain.” From this, as is indicated above, Nicky builds a fantastic story about a murder on a train, refuge at the Old Sumner Inn, and then the pair are amazed to discover that such a murder did happen, the previous night.

Nicky then asks where his friend got the sentence. When the friend says it just popped into his head, Nicky disagrees. “I’ve taught composition long enough to know that when you ask for a long sentence, you get a basic short sentence like ‘I like milk’ with modifiers thrown in to make it longer: ‘…because it is good for me.’” Nicky theorizes that his friend must have overheard someone else say the line while leaving the cafe - and that someone else was probably the killer. Sure enough, the cops rush to the cafe, and catch the hapless killer.

The humorous tag line then points out that Nicky set out to prove a series of inferences could be logical, and still not true - which, after all his amazing deductions, he most certainly did not.

  • Rick

Thanks all, this has been preying on my mind since the fifth grade. MEBuckner seems to have found the collection I was recalling; however it was part of a series, and I no doubt tansposed The Black Cat to one of the other volumes. (the science fiction one had the Very Creepy short story, The Yellow Pill, which I’d also like to track down.)