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“The Speckled Band” by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, and “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl

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Introduction

In this essay, I intend to compare and contrast the two short stories "The Speckled Band" by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, and "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl, picking out techniques used which make it exactly, or exactly the opposite of a typical detective story/murder mystery. When many people think of a murder mystery, they think of a dark and stormy night, a large forbidding house, a gunshot heard by everyone yet seen by no one, and the phrases "you're probably wondering why I called you all here", "The butler did it", and of course not forgetting "elementary, my dear Watson". In the end, the intelligent and very observant detective solves the case, and justice, sometimes through the courts and sometimes poetic, is served. Both "The Speckled Band" and "Lamb to the Slaughter" have ingredients for a detective story, i.e. they both have a murderer who is cold and calculating, and just that little bit mad. On the other hand, they are presented to us very differently, making one story very typical of its genre, and making the other very untypical of the murder mystery genre. Both Conan-Doyle and Dahl use various techniques to make their stories more interesting; for example, in Dahls "Lamb to the Slaughter" the story revolves around the character of Mrs Mary Maloney, loving housewife and psychopathic killer. Whereas many stories concentrate on the detective or sometimes the victim, this story concentrates on the character of the murderer. This perspective helps with the telling of the murder, making it more unexpected. The story includes two major plot twists; the first being the murder itself, made unexpected by what we have seen of Mary Maloneys character, the setting, and the form the murder weapon takes among other things. The second plot twist is at the end, where the detectives eat the murder weapon. Conan-Doyle used techniques in writing "The Speckled Band" also. ...read more.

Middle

She almost seems as if she has done this before. Her intelligence and ability to cover her tracks well make her more like a murderer, yet the fact that she succeeded makes the story all the more different from the typical murder mystery. The character of Mary Maloney is the last person you would think of as a murderer. She is a pregnant loving housewife who 'loved to luxuriate in the presence' of her husband- the man she killed. This is why she is such an untypical and interesting character. As for victims, Conan-Doyle makes the most typical character in Helen Stoner. The typical victim in a murder mystery is a person, usually a woman when the murderer is as typical as Dr Roylott, and almost always rich or about to come into money. Miss Helen Stoner fits this description to the letter. Firstly, she is a woman obviously, and a scared one, terrified by her predicament. 'It is not cold which makes me shiver... It is terror'. As for the second requirement, money, it is revealed that Helen Stoner is about to come into a fairly large amount. She says that an agreement was made whereby all her mothers fortune was to go to Dr Roylott, 'with a provision that a certain annual sum should be allowed to each of us in the event of our marriage', then later reveals that she will be marrying 'a dear friend, whom I have known for many years' Later in the plot, Holmes uncovers the will of Helen Stoner's mother, and finds out 'each daughter can claim an income of �250, in case of marriage.' So, from all these quotes, we can determine that after Helen Stoner's wedding, Dr Roylott would have had to given her �250 per year- an amount which could have ruined the "good doctor", as at the time the story was set, �250 had much more value than it does now. ...read more.

Conclusion

Personally, I think maybe a bit of both. The ending is definitely not entirely typical, but in some ways it is. The person who the story is based around wins, therefore the story does not seem unfulfilling. Its just that the story is based around the murderer. Because of the way they are resolved, both stories end well, giving a feeling that the right person won, although in the case of 'Lamb to the Slaughter', the "right person" happens to be a possible psychopath. Dahl engineered the story to make you feel as if there was nothing missing, whereas the main ingredient of the detective story- justice- is absent (or it could have taken the form of the murder, depending on what Patrick Maloney told his wife) Dahl and Conan-Doyle have engineered the two stories well, but in my opinion, Dahls story, 'Lamb to the Slaughter', is the better of the two, for two main reasons. Firstly, Dahl has written this story specifically to go against the traditional detective story, making the setting, plot and characters untypical. Secondly, I particularly like the way in which Dahls characters develop as the story goes on. Mary Maloney goes from loving housewife and potential victim to possible psychopathic murderer. Patrick Maloney develops from potential psychopathic murderer to dead victim, and the detectives... well the detectives are pretty dim to begin with anyway. While Dahl's characters are flexible, Conan-Doyle's stay rigid and static. Dr Roylott stays violent, Helen Stoner stays terrified, and Holmes stays as vigilant and observant as ever. The main ingredient of a detective story is that the villain is caught and justice is achieved. This happens in 'The Speckled Band', with the poetic justice of Dr Roylott's death, but in 'Lamb to the Slaughter' it doesn't, and the villain gets off "scot-free". Even if they had found her out, they wouldn't have any evidence. The main ingredient is missing in 'Lamb to the Slaughter', but even so, that doesn't make the story any worse. ...read more.

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