In my essay I am going to compare the two above named stories. Both are murder mysteries but are from very different cultural contexts. The stories both involve murders who are committed by close relatives to the victim. They both have detectives trying to assess the case and find a motive. Both stories have bizarre murders and vulnerable females, also both the stories are typical of the time they were written.
In the 1880’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popularized Sherlock Holmes with superhuman powers of deduction, this was for the benefit of a middle class audience who wanted entertaining by a genius. In the 1950’s the stress was now on the characters and heroes, victims and villains are learnt about. The hero is flawed, not a super-reasoning machine and the villains are driven by forces which maybe explained, but if not forgiven or condoned.
The Speckled Band is written in first person narrative and told by Doctor Watson, this is typical of all Sherlock Holmes stories. A young woman called Helen Stoner turns up at Sherlocks office in London in fear for her life as her sister Julia had died recently. Holmes takes the case and returns back to Stoke Moran with Miss Stoner and Doctor Watson. They discover that Roylett has killed Julia and in a plot to kill Helen to receive their mothers inheritance, Roylett does this by using a deadly Indian snake.
In Lamb to the Slaughter, a senior policeman, Patrick Maloney, returns to his comfortable suburban home, one evening, to tell his lovingly attentive and heavily pregnant wife (Mary) that he is leaving her. In a state of shock and out of her usual character. Mary reacts to this news, by hitting Patrick over the head with a frozen leg of lamb-originally intended to be cooked for his supper-and kills him. She then calculatedly rehearses a cover up for her guilt before calling the police. In a funny final dark twist, the sympathetic investigating detectives who were colleagues of the murdered Patrick unwittingly help destroy the evidence of Mary’s crime of passion(they eat the murder weapon!)
The author of The Speckled Band uses a wide variety of expansive adjectives. “The building was of grey, lichen blotched stone, with a high central portion, and two curving wings.” This is imposing, ugly, stereotypical setting for murder. A threatening, uncomfortable environment, typically set up for murder. “It was a wild night, the wind was howling outside, rain beating….” The setting to Lamb to the Slaughter is set in the Maloney’s front room which is warm and clean, this all sets up a suburban, comfortable non-threatening scene. The setting is the opposite to the setting in The Speckled Band because Lamb to the Slaughter is a homely loving environment.
“When the clock said ten minutes to five she began to listen….” “For her, this was always a blissful time of day…” The characterization in both stories is completely different. Dr Grimsby Roylott from the Speckled Band dresses darkly, he is physically huge giving him an advantage over most people, he portrays anger with an evil expression on his face and he is also an ugly man. All Dr Roylotts characteristics are comparable to the building in the story. He is also a very stereotypical murder suspect; He has a violent and unpredictable temperament and is threatening in action.
Mary Maloney from Lamb to the Slaughter only had her husbands and her unborn babies best interests at heart, but this does change as the story goes on, we can see that when her husband says that he is leaving her she reacts with violence. She turns into a completely different person, then she changes again when the detectives turn up at her house, she acts as if she is innocent and she also does not show much emotion.
Sherlock Holmes is a middle, upper class man. He works as a detective and enjoys it very much, he is also cunning, arrogant and pompous but he can be as he has a first class brain. Due to all the above he is control of Watson and his character. Sherlock is better educated than most people including Watson, which make people look up to him. He is omniscient, all knowing because he predicts everything before it happens. Holmes obviously thinks a lot of himself as he says, “there is someone more cunning than himself,” talking about Roylott. Dahl’s coppers are useless, boring, dim witted, lazy and always a step behind. The coppers don’t look for the obvious and definitely couldn’t handle the out of the ordinary. They only work for their money and they have lots of clever methods to solve mysteries but the methods never result in anything, because the coppers are so thick it turns out to be quite comical and ironic.