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characteristics of murder mysteries. What are the similarities and
differences between the two stories?
I this essay I am going to compare two short stories. 'The Speckled
Band' by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle and 'The Lamb to the Slaughter' by
There are both many similarities and difference between these two
stories. Though some similarities/differences are obvious and easy to
spot, there are also some less obvious similarities/differences.
The first difference we can see is the setting. 'In Lamb to the
Slaughter', the main setting is in a quiet, warm house. 'The room was
warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight - hers
and the one by the empty chair opposite.' This description tells us
about how the house is appealing to be in. Also, by saying the 'empty
chair opposite' you can gather that there is another character in the
story, to which she is waiting for. The time period is a post 20th
Century America (1954, about 10 years after the Second World War.)
However, the main setting in 'The Speckled Band' is the complete
opposite. 'The building was of grey, lichen-blotched stone, with a
high central portion, and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab,
thrown out on each side.' This gives a foreboding atmosphere, which
could be used to en-still fear into readers. Another difference is
that it is set in 19th Century England.
Though both very different, both settings hold a murder to them.
Other differences are in the way the characters are depicted. In 'Lamb
to the Slaughter' the main character, Mary Maloney, is described as a
quiet peaceful person. 'Curiously tranquil eyes with their new placid
look, seemed larger, darker than before.' The writer also indicates
that she is pregnant, 'for this was her sixth month with child.' With
this description, you would not think of Mary to be a 'typical
killer'. What people consider a typical killer is someone who is cold,
precise and knows what they're doing, usually a man. However we are
misled, 'brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his
head. She might just have hit him with a steel club.' As you can see,
this would not have been expected from a quiet tranquil person. There
are no more descriptions of other people. This is strange as you would
think that there would be more people in the story. Even though more
people come into the story, they are not significant enough to get a
description. They are just said to be a 'police detective'.
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as you read on you can see that this is actually very effective as
there is no need for the other characters to be described. One could
say that this story is revolved around Mary.
The way the characters are described is very different. 'His costume
was a peculiar mixture of the professional and the agricultural,
having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters,
with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand. So tall was he that his hat
actually brushed the crossbar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed
to span it across from side to side.' As you can see, this is a much
more detailed description than any in 'Lamb to the Slaughter'.
Conan-Doyle carries on telling us about how Dr. Roylott became
violent, 'instead of making friends and exchanging visits with our
neighbours, he shut himself up in his house, and seldom came out save
to indulge in ferocious quarrels with whoever might cross his path.'
From this quote, we can tell that Dr. Roylott is a violent man. This
statement is backed up later on in the story, 'seized the poker, and
bent it into a curve' As you can see, he is a very violent man who
uses his strength to make people afraid of him. With this description
you get the idea that Roylott is a secluded man. As said earlier on,
Mary Maloney is not your typical murderer. However, Dr. Roylott can be
considered as a typical murderer, large, violent and able to do such a
The other character described greatly is Helen Stoner. 'She was indeed
in a pitiful state of agitation. Her face all drawn and grey, with
restless frightened eyes like those of a hunted animal. Her features
and figure were those of a woman of thirty but her hair was shot with
premature grey and expression was weary and hagged.' Helen is the
sister of Julia Stoner. Throughout the story, Helen is Holmes guide
and tells him various things that he needs to know about the Stoke and
her sister's death. This means that she plays an important role.
Though both of these stories are murder mysteries, the way that they
are structured is very different. In 'Lam to the Slaughter' the way
the story unravels is in a 'whodunit' sense. What this means that that
we know, who did it. The interest is kept by other means. The way
Roald Dahl keeps readers interested in this story is by leading
through with the inspectors trying to find out who killed Patrick
Maloney. This is written in the following way, 'a very big spanner?'
This indicates that the police are looking for the completely wrong
thing. As we know from reading the story, Patrick Maloney was killed
by a leg of lamb, 'frozen leg of lamb'
At the end of this story there is a twist. After the murder, Mary put
the lamb into the oven. Near the end, Mary offers the lamb to the
inspectors. When they eat it, all evidence has gone. This is an
example of dramatic irony. 'Personally I think its right here on the
premises.' 'Probably right under our noses.' This is humorous as we
know what has really happened, but the inspectors do not.
The structure of 'The Speckled Band' is very much different. It is not
written in a 'whodunit' way, but rather a more murder mystery. It
starts off by telling us some things about what happened at the murder
scene. 'her hands groping for help, her whole figure swaying to and
fro like that of a drunkard a fresh convulsion seized her and choked
her words.' This is the main setting of how Julia Stoner died.
However, we do not know how it actually happened. This mystery of not
knowing how she died is the main factor that makes us want to read on.
As you read deeper and further into the story, you begin to get ideas
of what might have happened. This is intriguing as you want to keep on
reading so that you can find out what actually did happen. This is one
of the largest differences between the two stories. Holmes works out
what the murderer may have been.
This is completely different to the police in 'Lamb to the Slaughter'
who are unperceptive and do not work out what has really happened. In
'The Speckled Band' Holmes has a sort of 'omniscient' way of knowing
what has happened. This is also very interesting as you begin to
wonder what he will think of next. This makes the story more complex
than in 'Lamb to the Slaughter' as you know what happened.
The language used is also very much different. In 'Lamb to the
Slaughter' colloquial English is used. This is slang or a more modern
way of talking. In 'The Speckled Band' the language used is very much
archaic, 'for working as he did rather for the love of his art than
for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with
any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the
fantastic.' This use of archaic words and phrases can be difficult for
modern readers to understand, as it is often more complicated than in
modern tense. The sentence length in 'The Speckled Band' is long and
drawn out. The first sentence is very long and it presents much
factually and situational information which is intended to 'whet' the
readers appetite and encourage them to read further. 'Of all these
varied cases, however, I cannot recall any which presented more
singular features than' This is a very long sentence which makes
readers wonder as to what the writer might be referring to. This will
then encourage you to read on.
Although 'Lamb to the Slaughter' does not use archaic language, it
does however use colloquial speech. 'well I might take just a drop to
keep me going.' This is a noticeable change to the language in 'The
Speckled Band' but is much easier to understand and relate to.
The similarities in these two stories are far and few. The only
obvious similarity is that they both include murders. Now whilst some
people may say that this is a stupid statement, it is true. Often the
most simplistic of things can be the right answer.