Conan Doyle’s’ ‘The Speckled Band’ is a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery narrated by his long time companion Dr Watson. A client Miss Helen Stoner visits Holmes and Dr Watson, she is the stepdaughter of Dr Roylott who lived in India and in a fit of rage killed his butler. He then married Miss Stoners’ mother and moved to England but his wife soon died. Helen is concerned by the death of her sister Julia in totally enclosed room ‘we could see that she was indeed in a pitable state of agitation’. Holmes a flamboyant showman then begins to solve the case along with his sidekick Dr Watson.
They discover that a poisonous Indian Swamp Adder, which left no visible marks, killed Julia. The snake then turns on his master in anger and kills him. In a typical murder mystery the reader expects to find a group of suspects to an immoral act of gruesome murder. There is also a murder scene, a weapon and clues which are given out along the way. The detective, police, investigator or amateur sleuth then sets out along the trail of clues. Along this trail they meet red herrings, witness’, alibis, find motives and opportunity, and in modern times forensics.
More modern murder mysteries concentrate on forensics like ‘Silent Witness’. The red herring in ‘The Speckled Band’ are gypsies, staying near the house but this doesn’t work because it is too obvious as Dr Roylott is the murderer so it isn’t a “who-dun-it” but a “how-dun-it”. The weapons used are usually guns, knives and forms of strangulation but this story differs again because the weapon is a snake. The suspects all have to have motives, which are greed, jealousy, and love but the killer also has to have had the opportunity. Sherlock Holmes stories always end in a di?? nouement, which is when he sums up the murder and the clues.
‘The Speckled Band’ follows this standardized structure to a certain extent but it has an unusual weapon, it doesn’t have many suspects and it concentrates more on the murder that is about to happen. One of the most important aspects controlling the tension, atmosphere and events in a murder mystery is setting. The setting of the murder scene is crucial because that is where the clues are and the key to working it all out. Arthur Conan Doyle has an effective use of contrast with the cozy setting of Baker Street, which allows the reader to snuggle up between Conan Doyle’s’ yarn.
There is also the pivotal setting of the gothic ancestral home where the imposing hillside gives an explosive background to a brutal killing ‘The building was of grey, linchen-bloched stone, with a high central portion, and two curved wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin’. The three bedrooms of the habited wing are where the murder takes place and another is attempted. These rooms were arranged for a specific use, to get rid of a newly bereaved stepdaughter.
This set place killing is reliant on the correct positioning of a chair, a vent, a bell pull and a bed. Without these in their right positions the murder would not have taken place. As well as the setting, the gypsies and the animals also create tension with the reader always when the cheetah will strike. Pathetic fallacy is used to create the right mood through out and the weather changes to make more tension. In all murder mysteries the writer has to create a certain amount of tension to keep the reader interested. Conan Doyle does this with gradual climbs of tension and then a fall.