Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “The Speckled Band” written in the early nineteenth century tells the tale of Sherlock Holmes and one of his cases and it compares very differently to Roald Dahl’s twentieth century short story, “Lamb to the Slaughter” about a wife murdering her husband. The murder mystery genre has developed an identity for itself whereby many elements of different stories within the genre are the same, such as the characterisation, writing style, suspense and resolution.
Both short stories fit differently into the typical murder mystery tale, for example in “Lamb to the Slaughter” the detectives are portrayed as foolish whereas in “The Speckled Band” the detective is intelligent and meets the expectations of the reader. Both stories present elements such as suspense and perspective in different fashions. Furthermore differences between the two stories are shown through the settings. In “The Speckled Band” the setting is a “very old” “manor house” and only one of the ” wings is inhabited”.
We learn that there are wild animals roaming free in the house and that there are “wretched gypsies in the plantation”. This is very typical of the genre; the readers of “The Speckled Band” identify the settings as peculiar and immediately perceive it as the scene of the crime. They quickly start making predictions about what or who linked to setting could be behind the crime. On the other end of the spectrum, the setting in “Lamb to the Slaughter” is a cosy domestic home.
The living room is “warm and clean” and “curtains are drawn”. It is clearly evident that Roald Dahl’s chosen setting doesn’t at all fit into the classic example and the readers of “Lamb to the Slaughter” don’t at all assume that the setting could be the scene of a murder and are totally awestricken when they find out that it is. Another example of contrast is evident through the crime. The crimes in both stories compare differently to each another.
In “Lamb to the Slaughter” the murder is sudden and a “crime of passion”, “Mary Maloney simply walked up behind [her husband]” and “in a spur of a moment” killed him by hitting him hard on the head with the leg of lamb and stood there “feeling cold and surprised”. The details of the murder are told from the perspective of third person and sympathy is created through this, as the readers know why she committed the crime. This is very atypical of a murder mystery story. In contrast the crime in “The Speckled Band” is “premeditated”, “cold blooded” and carefully planned.
It is also very detailed; things such as the ventilation, milk saucer, trained snake and bell pull are involved to add complexity. As the crime is so complex it allows Sherlock Holmes to be witty. The details of the crimes are told from the perspective of the detective and the whole crime again fits into the typical idea. The readers immediately know that Holmes will solve the crime and show that he is clever as the crime is very detailed. Because lots of details are provided of the crime, the readers start making their own perceptions regarding how the murder was carried out and later compare it with Holmes’.
The victims in both stories are also portrayed differently. The victim of the crime “In The Speckled Band” is a helpless and weak woman who is petrified by her stepfather and turns up at Sherlock Holmes office “shivering with terror” and “frightened … like a hunted animal”. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle presents the victim in a classic fashion and suggests that she is in urgent need of help. On the other hand, the victim in “Lamp to Slaughter” is the man of the house and a policeman with detective friends. This again is very atypical of the genre as usually men are never the victims of crime committed by a woman.
The reader of “The Speckled Band” feel sympathetic towards the victim and hope that she is saved from been murdered as the victim is innocent and hasn’t done anything to offend the murderer. In contrast in “Lamb to the Slaughter” the readers feel against the victim for leaving his wife and don’t feel sympathetic towards him when he is murderer and neither do they wish he were saved. Again differences between the two stories are shown through the portrayal of the detective(s). In “The Speckled Band” the detective, Sherlock Holmes is illustrated in a typical fashion as clever, methodical and intellectual.
We learn the he can make “rapid deductions” from the clues and easily “unravel problems” he is faced with. He is very analytical and this is evident when he starts making comments about the type of vehicle Helen Stoner travelled in after looking at the mud patches on her dress. The detectives in “Lamb to the Slaughter” are quite the opposite; they are portrayed in atypical fashion as foolish and manipulative and this evident when Mary Maloney fools them and they end up eating the evidence that they believed was “under their noses”.
The readers of “Lamb to the Slaughter” don’t have any respect for the detectives and immediately deduce that the murderer will outwit the detectives. Because it is atypical the readers perceive it as humorous whereas the readers perceive Holmes as witty and have admiration for him and know that he will ultimately use his intelligence to solve the crime and outwit the criminal. The suspense is created in different ways in both stories. In “The Speckled Band” the readers don’t know who has committed the crime and are left wondering whether another murder will be prevented.
The readers are presented with the locked room mystery and suspense is created when Holmes examines the room and the readers’ wonder what he will find. Further suspense is created when Holmes sneaks into the house at night, the readers are left wondering whether he will prevent the crime or get killed. The story reaches its momentum when a scream is heard at night in the manor house and they are left speculating whether Helen Stoner is killed or not. On the other hand in “Lamb to the Slaughter” the readers know who the murderer is and wonder if Mary Maloney will get caught.
Suspense is created by hints in the text such as the word “unusual” and through details about Patrick Maloney drinking too much whisky. The reader’s wonder how Mary Maloney will cover up the evidence and whether the detectives will realise that the leg of lamb is the weapon they are looking for. Likewise the resolutions in both stories are very different. In “The Speckled Band” the crime is methodically resolved and Holmes explains how he caught up with the criminal.
This links with the idea of a typical story in the genre and allows Holmes to demonstrate his cleverness and carry out an intelligent investigation. The resolution also links with how suspense is created and the readers expect a resolution, as they don’t know who the murderer is. Equally, the readers also expect the murderer to be caught due to his negative portrayal. If the crime were unresolved then the story would have little point. Whereas in “Lamb to the Slaughter” the detectives destroy the evidence and Mary Maloney isn’t caught.
This again is what the readers expected, as she seemed very witty and left one clue that was later destroyed. As the sympathy was directed towards her rather then the victim the resolution needs to be in her favour to satisfy the reader. Also if the story were resolved then it wouldn’t be interesting, as the readers already know by whom & how the murder was committed. There are some similarities and differences between how the investigation is carried out. In both stories the detectives go to the scene of crime to look for information.
In “Lamb to the Slaughter”, the investigation is unprofessional; the detectives don’t necessarily think the Mary Maloney is guilty and accept alcohol from her and act friendly towards her. They also fail to identify the leg of lamb as a weapon and Mary Maloney’s suspicious behaviour. This again is atypical of the genre and the readers quickly come to the conclusion that murder will not be resolved because of the way in which the investigation is carried out and how no information is deduced. On the other hand the investigation is “The Speckled Band” is carried out professionally and Holmes puts his life on risk to carry it out.
Evidence is collected systematically with a hypothesis and every minor detail is taken into account. This again is typical of the genre and the readers immediately know through the systematic investigation that the murder will be resolved. Both stories are written differently. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has written in great detail and has perhaps included too much excessive and unnecessary information such as the information about Holmes waking up and the victim arriving at his office. He has written through the perspective of the detective, through someone who is part of the story.
This makes what the detective is thinking known to the reader and increases their interest in the story and gets them more involved as they think with the detective to see if they can solve the crime. In contrast Roald Dahl has written directly and has included little excessive information. He is concise about what he wants to tell and has blended in macabre black humour into his story. This helps ensure that the readers are constantly kept interested and not bored by excessive information, although they aren’t as involved in the story as they would be in “The Speckled Band”.
The criminals in both stories are of contrasting personalities. The murderer in “The Speckled Band” is Dr. Grimsby Roylott, a wicked elderly man prone to violence. We learn that “in a fit of anger” he beat his butler to a horrific death, and that he is often involved in “ferocious quarrels” and “disgraceful brawls” with his neighbours. The detective, Sherlock Holmes also learns that apart from been involved in causing domestic violence, Grimsby is also responsible for violently abusing his stepdaughter.
So as evident, we can see that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has presented the murderer in a typical manner and has tried to portray through his violent and aggressive behaviour that he is guilty. On the other hand, Roald Dahl illustrates the murderer in “Lamb to the Slaughter” in a very atypical way. Mrs Maloney, a devoted wife who is 6 months pregnant is always “content to sit quietly enjoying [her husband’s] company & “she loves him” dearly. Every evening she sat sewing tranquilly as she waited for her husband to arrive.
For her this was “blissful time of the day” and she always waited patiently to “luxuriate” her husbands company. Roald Dahl presents the murderer in such a way that she seems very unlikely to commit a murder and Roald Dahl gives no clues in the text suggesting that she will carry out something sinister. Both stories portray the murderers in their own particular ways, thus they are perceived differently by the readers.
The readers of “The Speckled Band” are immediately given the description of a suspicious character that is aggressive and has past criminal records. Since Dr. Grimsby Roylott is the only suspicious character with motives to kill, the readers immediately reach the conclusion that he is guilty and feel strongly against him whereas in “Lamb to the Slaughter” it’s a different case. The murderer Mary Maloney loves the person who she eventually kills. The readers perceive this as shocking and confronting. The readers feel sympathetic for Mary Maloney, as she is alleged to be a victim of a greater emotional crime.
Both stories while been different have certain common elements such as the types of characters (murderer, detective, victim etc. and the murder been the centre of the story, but these elements have been portrayed differently. The readers will recognise both stories as been from the same genre but will easily identify that there are elements from other genres present. Roald Dahl blends in humour to create an impact on the reader and the humour also gives the story it’s distinguishable quality. Roald Dahl’s tale could also be looked at, as a tragic love story that tells its reader of the emotional affect the other partner can have by been unfaithful.
While Dahl uses elements from a variety of genres, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s platter is pretty empty. The Speckled Band” predominately has its shoes stuck in the murder mystery genre but the lock room mystery gives the story it’s horror elements by suggesting that some kind of a paranormal activity could have resulted in the crime. The scream near the end also contributes to this. Both stories tell us something about the societies and times that influenced them. “The Speckled Band” shows how women were perceived as weak and reliant on men to help them in the late nineteenth century.
It demonstrates how one could get away with murder if he/she was higher up in the society and how people took crime seriously. Lamb to the Slaughter” proves how much has changed in 100 years. Women are now seen as equal to men (some may argue differently) and have there own status. It also demonstrates how one can have a laugh at something as dark as murder. But this can be justified as acceptable as one doesn’t expect the police to be so foolish nowadays. After reading both stories, one easily recognise the ages difference between them. Conan Doyle and Roald Dahl have different style and would have approached each other story differently.
Conan Doyle couldn’t have possibly written a story like “Lamb to the Slaughter” as he writes in much detail and portrays his character differently. Also in the late nineteenth a story like “Lamb to the Slaughter” would have been a subject of great controversy. If “Lamb to the Slaughter” were to be rewritten as a typical adventure of Holmes then it wouldn’t be the same story. If Holmes lived up to what he was in his stories, a clever and intellectual individual then all the elements such as suspense, investigation and crime would be greatly effected and the story will be hardly interesting.
Likewise, Roald Dahl couldn’t have written something that predominantly represents “The Speckled Band”. As evident from his other stories he would have added twists in the stories and changed different elements. The pace of the story would have been increased and things such as the crime would be very sudden and quick and the portrayal of the characters would be very different, for example Dr. Watson might have been shown as a comical sidekick of Holmes. Both stories have their own distinctive qualities that appeal to the reader.
The Speckled Band” goes into the finest of details and involves the reader in the story and forces them to think, make prediction and have a stab at solving the crime. With its exquisite detail it creates imagery in the mind of the reader and takes them into setting where the crime took place. “Lamb to the Slaughter” doesn’t involve the reader much nor it creates pictures in its readers mind. Its twists shock the reader and keep them constantly interested. It takes a different look at the crime and shows the reader how a criminal thinks and exposes something that isn’t common in the genre.
Lamb to the Slaughter” and “The Speckled Band” both compares very differently to each other and the comparison between the two makes it evident that much has changed in a hundred years. “The Speckled Band” represents the genre in a very typical fashion and the different element such as resolution and characterisation fit in very comfortably into the idea of murder mystery story and meets its reader’s expectation. “Lamb to the Slaughter” tells the story of murder from a different angle and steers away from most things that the genre stands for.