Both ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ and ‘The Speckled Band’ share some characteristics of murder mysteries. What are the similarities and differences between the two stories? Both ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ and ‘The Speckled Band’ are categorised as murder mysteries, but how can they be when they are both so different? What does a story have to include to be an effective murder mystery? Does originality make a better read than tradition? If originality works better, how original can the story be? Will it still have to include a detective, a murder, a twist, clues and a mystery that’s almost impossible to solve?
By taking these questions into consideration, will the differences between the two stories really be significantly different? These issues are what I will be discussing within the essay. I will review the elements that are supposedly needed in a murder mystery. I will converse about the comparisons between them both, considering all similarities and differences mentioned. I will then decide which is better and give reasons towards my hypothesis. ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ has a very fresh and unusual concept.
The story is about a pregnant woman who murders her husband as the result of some bad news he has told her. She kills him with a blow to the back of his head using a frozen leg of lamb. She then quickly creates a convincing alibi. This alibi, along with her charms and superb acting skills, helps Mrs Maloney to fool the detectives, so much so that they even feel guilty about suspecting her. The irony of the story is that the detectives end up eating the only source of evidence, the leg of lamb. On first impression, Mrs Maloney appears to be the stereotypical housewife; feeble and dedicated to her husband.
‘… this was her sixth month with child; mouth soft, and the eyes, with their new placid look seemed larger, darker than before. ‘ This quote could be used as evidence of my previous comment. However, the extract ‘darker than before’ is ambiguous, as it may imply the beginning of a ‘darker’ side to Mrs Maloney. This analysis completely contrasts the initial interpretation of Mrs Maloney, the denotation of the first couple of sentences in ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ will almost ‘ruin’ the surprise element that is to be read further on in the story.
The words ‘placid’ and ‘soft’ emphasise the innocence of Mrs Maloney, but is this style purposely used so we are led in the wrong direction, that she is nothing more than a loving housewife? Again, the fact that she is pregnant also helps us to sympathise with her, never suspecting her to be a homicidal murderer. This false sense of direction also occurs in ‘The Speckled Band’. Not in exactly the same manner as the main character is the well-known and loved detective, Sherlock Holmes, and we are already led to believe that Dr Roylott, the killer, is a prime suspect.
However, the end result also concludes in a twist; the way in which the murder was carried out. It begins with a mysterious client, Miss Stoner, pleading for the help of Sherlock Holmes to solve a case. Her sister died under mysterious circumstances and she wants it uncovered, she also fears for her own life. Sherlock Holmes, along with his trusty sidekick, Dr Watson, investigates into the murder.
Despite the fact that we are given clues and follow Holmes through his inspections, we are still left in the dark when it comes to ‘whodunit?’ but not only do we not know who the killer is but we have no idea why they did it either. However, although we are left clue-less, Sherlock Holmes has had an inkling all along.
The unusual twist in this story is that Sherlock Holmes accidentally kills the ‘the bad stepfather’. He unintentionally provokes Dr Roylott’s snake into backfiring upon his master, therefore killing Dr Roylott. Holmes left showing no sign of guilt. Despite the fact that this could be seen as cruel and malicious, we see Holmes, once again, as an esteemed hero. So why is this?
Why do we have such a high opinion and so much faith in a fictional character? I believe the way in which the character is shown, his humour, his charisma, his intelligence, gives us, the readers, someone to idolise (similar to how Watson idolises Holmes). In fact, Watson is characterised to be like us, to idolise Holmes, to think like us; for instance, following and finding the clues without, however, piecing then together. You could almost say that he ‘thinks’ for us. We see Watson as an ordinary everyday person while Holmes is quite the contrary.