‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ and ‘A Lamb to the Slaughter’ were written in different centuries and yet both share some characteristics of murder mysteries. In this essay, I intend to compare the motives for the murders; the crime and cover-ups/ alibis; the personalities of the murderers and their victims and look at how the authors create suspense in their stories.
‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gives a detailed account of one of Sherlock Holmes and Dr.
Watson’s most interesting cases. A young woman Miss Helen Stoner, comes to consult them about the death of her sister, Julia, two years previously, in very mysterious circumstances. Julia died alone and the coroner could not find the cause. Now Helen has begun to fear that she to is in danger and is alarmed at the violent behaviour of her step father, Dr. Grimesby Roylott. Holmes and Watson go to Stoke Moran and solve the mystery of Julia’s death.
‘A lamb to the Slaughter’ by Roald Dahl tells the story of Mary Maloney and her tense relationship with her husband, Patrick. One evening Mary Maloney is waiting for her husband to arrive home. Once Patrick Maloney returns home and tells his wife, Mary some unpleasant news which she can’t believe she is hearing. He tells her that he is leaving her for another woman. This upsets Mary Maloney and in a fit of anger she kills her husband. Now she must cover it and fool the police detectives into believing she is innocent.
The motives for the murders in the stories are very different. Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s motive for murdering his step daughter, Julia, and the attempted murder for Helen was for the money Helens mother left for herself and Julia. When Helen and Julia’s mother died she left for them in her will that a certain sum would be given to each of them when they got married: “each daughter gets ï¿½250 when they marry” (page 7-8). So Dr. Roylott’s motive for killing Julia and trying to kill Helen was that he would get all the money which his wife left for them.
Mary Maloney, however, had a very difficult motive; she killed her husband, Patrick Maloney, because of her anger and jealously about some news he had told her. He had told her that he was leaving her for another woman: “This is going to be a bit of a shock for you, I’m afraid,” he said. “But I’ve thought about it a good deal and I’ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away. I hope you won’t blame me to much”. And he told her. It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at the most, and she sat very still through it all, watching him with a kind of dazed horror as he went further and further away from her with each word (page 16).
Then once he had told her, he was leaving her, she went to the freezer and took out a leg of a lamb and was about to make dinner, then with all her might she swung the piece of frozen lambs leg onto his head which killed him.
She now has to cover it up using an alibi because she does not want to go to jail especially that she is pregnant and she does not want the baby taken away from her: did they kill them – mother and child? Or did they wait until the tenth month? What did they do? Mary Maloney didn’t know. And she certainly wasn’t prepared to take a chance (page 17).
The murder weapons in both stories were very unusual but were similar to each other in a way. In ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ the murder weapon was a deadly snake which was called a swamp adder: ‘I took a step forward. Suddenly this strange headband began to move, and rearing itself up from his hair was the diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a snake!’ (page 13).
Whereas in ‘A Lamb to the Slaughter’, the murder weapon was a leg of a lamb, which was frozen solid. The crimes themselves were different. Dr. Grimesby Roylott trained a deadly swamp adder to attack the person sleeping in Julia’s bedroom. His plan was well thought out and involved the bed in her room being fixed to the floor so it could not move its position. The bed was against the wall which had the vent in it. There was a false bell rope that did not work, which was above the bed. The bell rope was over the vent.
Dr. Roylott trained the snake to go through the vent and slither down the bell rope to attack its victim (Dr. Roylott carried the snake to the vent by using the dog lead). Dr. Roylott trained the snake to do what he wanted it to do by using a whistle for commands and a saucer of milk for a reward.
In contrast Mary Maloney did not plan ahead; she went downstairs into the cellar to get something for dinner from the freezer. When she entered the living room with a frozen piece of leg from a lamb in her hands, her husband Patrick grunted that he was going out for dinner and already told her not to make dinner. Mary then gripped the piece of meat and with all her might she swung the frozen leg and brought the frozen leg onto Patrick’s head: ‘At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head’ (page 17).
As you can see the two different weapons use have things in common such as they are both animals and would not be suspected by the police. These weapons are very strange and unusual because when we listen to the news, when someone gets murdered nine out of ten times the murder weapon is a knife of some sort and a gun.
The personalities of the murderers, although different, are very similar in some ways. Dr. Grimesby Roylott seems very evil and mad and he looked like ‘a fierce old bird of pray’ but he is a very clever man. He trained a deadly snake with a whistle and used a saucer of milk as its reward, to climb down the bell rope and attack the person that lay on the bed. We could tell that he was a bad tempered man, because it says so in the text, when Holmes sees the vivid bruises on Helens wrist. Helen stoner also tells Sherlock Holmes that he beat his Indian butler to death because he suspected him of theft. Roylott had planned his moves carefully and succeeded once. As the readers we see him as someone when they want something they would do anything to get it.
When we see Mary Maloney, she gives us the impression of a very nice peaceful housewife, and someone that cares for her husband a lot. However, she is not what she seems when she kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb. When she strikes Patrick’s head with the piece of frozen leg, we think that she is out of control and unstable: ‘The violence of the crash, the noise, the small table overturning, helped her out of the shock. She came out slowly, feeling cold and surprised, as she stood for a while blinking at the body, still holding the ridiculous piece of meat tight with both hands.’ (page 17).
However both of them are very intelligent, sly and cunning in the way they cover up the murders and provide themselves with alibis. In ‘The Adventure of the Speckles Band’, Dr. Roylott can prove he was nowhere near Julia Stoner when she was murdered. Dr. Roylott was in his room at the time of the murder. Dr. Roylott also had an alibi who was Helen. This is because she could prove that Dr, Roylott was in his room at the time and could not have murdered Julia or gained access to her room because the rooms were locked at night because the wild animals that lived there, were allowed loose in the ground: “The door had been locked from inside and the windows were blocked by shutters with broad iron bars” (page 6).
He planned his moves very carefully by using a way to kill Julia without him touching her or being in her room. He used a poisonous snake to kill Julia. This was not any snake how ever, it was a snake from India, so the poison at that time was not known in England so he knew that he could get away with the crime he committed. Because the poison was not known at that time, they could not find any cause for Julia’s murder. And the same would have happened to Helen if she did not go to consult Sherlock Holmes.
In ‘A Lamb to the Slaughter’, Mary Maloney also arranges a perfect alibi; after she has killed her husband she stands in front of a mirror rehearsing her lines: ” Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, aloud. The voice sounded peculiar too. “I want some potatoes please, Sam. Yes, and I think a can of peas.” That was better. Both the smile and the voice were coming out better now. She rehearsed it several times more. Then she ran downstairs, took her coat, went out the back door, down the garden, into the street (page 18).
She then goes to the grocer’s where she asks Sam, the grocer for some potatoes and peas and then comes home. Her alibi was that when she came home from the grocers she found her husband dead lying on the floor. She then phones the police screaming someone’s killed her husband. The police then come over and she is acting very upset about what had just happened. For some one to do an alibi like this is very clever and cunning. The police check her alibi but Sam backs her up and so they do not suspect her: “Which grocer?” one of the detectives asked. She told him, and he turned and whispered something to the other detective who immediately went outside into the street. In fifteen minutes he returned with a page of notes, and there was more whispering, and through her sobbing she heard more whispering phrases – “. . . acted quite normal . . . very cheerful . . . wanted to give him a good super . . . peas . . . cheesecake . . . impossible that she . . .” (page 20).
Both of them hide the murder weapons very cleverly; Dr. Grimesby Roylott hides his snake in a metal safe and Mary Maloney gets rid of the leg of lamb by cooking it in the oven and feeding it to the policemen who are colleagues of Patrick.
Although they are both very clever the major difference is the endings to the stories. At the end of ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, Dr. Grimesby Roylott gets caught by Sherlock Holmes and dies by his own weapon (the snake) however Mary Maloney does not get caught and gets away with it completely as the police eats the evidence.
The victims in the story are different. This is because in ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, Helen is an innocent victim and Roylott wants her money which her mother left in her will (basically for greed and selfishness) but in ‘A Lamb to the Slaughter’, the victim, Patrick, was murdered by chance not design. The only reason Mary Maloney murdered him is because of anger and shock.
The two authors create suspense in different ways; Arthur Conan Doyle builds up the tension gradually by using powerful adjectives such as; strange, fear, terror. Whereas Roald Dahl builds up suspense and tension when Mary Maloney, a pregnant woman who is peaceful and loves her husband, murders him with a frozen leg of lamb by bringing it down on his head. Also the alibi that was included raises tension as well because the reader doesn’t know if the police will fall for it.
Some things I liked about ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ was that there was a lot of tension and strange things involved, such as the unique murder weapon and the investigation which I thought was very interesting. What I liked about ‘A Lamb to the Slaughter’ is how she got rid of the evidence. She got the police to eat it. Not only that but the alibi she used to get away with the crime was very clever.