Lamb to the Slaughter and The speckled Band share some of the characteristics of murder mysteries. Explain the similarities and differences between the two stories and say which you think is the most compelling to read.
Roald Dahl wrote the story ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ in 1954. Dahl is best known for his short, entertaining children’s stories like ‘James and the Giant Peach ‘ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, which are both extremely popular. He wrote Lamb to the Slaughter 1 year after he married Hollywood actress Patricia Neal.
Dahl was born in September 1916 in Llandaff, South Wales. His father was a shipbroker and Dahl was the third born of a second marriage. Both of Dahl’s parents came from Norwegian backgrounds and his love for stories came from the stories his mother told him at bedtime, which were usually Norse myths and legends. Each summer his family would travel, by steamer, to Oslo on a two-day voyage, where they would be treated to a Norwegian feast be Dahl’s grandparents. The next day they would board a smaller boat and travel to the ‘magic island’ where they washed away the long summer days bathing and sailing.
This childhood is where Dahl got his love for short, exiting stories! He loved the bedtime stories and the trips to Oslo and the ‘magic island’, he probably started writing some of his stories in places like this. He usually wrote children’s stories; this background is where this came from.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Speckled Band in 1842. Doyle is more popularly remembered as the creator of the legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes. He wrote this story a year before his alcoholic fathers death. Doyle took up medicine as a career when he left school at the age of 18. This explains his scientific knowledge within the stories. Soon after leaving school, he began to help his mother by becoming her medical assistant. He compressed a whole years study into six months. In August 1881 he received his bachelor of medicine and master of surgery awards, this started his career as he opened his own surgery, at which he created Sherlock Holmes during his wait for customers.
This does not really explain his writing style, but it seems as if he was quite interested in detectives and he had a lot of spare time, so this must have been his main influence.
The victim in Lamb to the Slaughter is Patrick Maloney. He was married to Mary Maloney in a seemingly loving relationship. He was killed when Mary Maloney hit him over the head with a leg of lamb that she was going to cook for supper. I started to suspect something was wrong when, ‘on the evening of his death Patrick Maloney did an unusual thing. He finished his drink very quickly and then poured himself out another very strong one.’ Another clue that may suggest that something is wrong is that he takes a long time to reply to his wife ‘he didn’t answer’, ‘Her eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nod, but he made no sign.’ ‘He had finished the second drink and was staring down into the glass, frowning.’
In the Speckled Band the victim is Miss Helen Stoner, Dr Grimesby Roylotts’ daughter. When we first see Helen in the story she was wearing black, veiled and grey haired. She was shivering and terrified ‘we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, her face all drawn and grey, with a restless frightened eyes, like of those of some hunted animal’, ‘the lady gave a violent start’, ‘It is fear, Mr Holmes. It is terror.’ Helen was scared that her father would do the same to her as he did to her sister, kill!
In Lamb to the Slaughter the murderer was Mary Maloney. Mary Maloney was pregnant and looked beautiful ‘Her skinâ€¦for this was her sixth month with a childâ€¦had acquired a wonderful translucent quality, the mouth was soft and the eyes, with their placid look, seemed larger, darker than before.’ Her motive for murdering her husband was a little unknown conversation, where I think he told her he was leaving her for someone else. Mary didn’t get caught because the detectives in the story wee gullible, and ate the evidence while looking for it, ‘
‘Probably right under our noses, what do you think Jack?’ I feel sympathy for her, that her husband was going to leave her for someone else but I think Mary Maloney over reacted to the situation.
The murderer in The Speckled Band was Doctor Grimesby Roylott. He was a violent man who had a bad and short temper ‘In a fit of anger, however, caused by some robberies which had been perpetrated in the house, he beat his native butler to death’. After his wife dies he shut himself up and became very violent ‘But a terrible change came over our step-father about this timeâ€¦’ ‘He is a man of immense strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger.’ His motive for trying to kill Miss Helen Stoner, his daughter, was money. His deceased wife left money for her daughters, but if they die he would receive the money, if they got married they would receive this money. I do not feel sympathy for Doctor Roylott because he’s sick and twisted. He is also very selfish, but a very dangerous man.
In Lamb to the Slaughter, in the scene of the crime there is a very calm, loving and relaxed atmosphere ‘The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight â€“ hers and the one by the empty chair opposite.’ Although there is calm and relaxed atmosphere, it is a little too calm which creates the murderous tension. I understand that her husband wanted to leave her because she created too much tension and she fussed over him too much.
The scene of the crime in The Speckled Band is an old house. The house is described as ‘The building was of grey, lichen â€“ blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving 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.’ This creates a murderous, killing and spooky atmosphere. The atmosphere makes me feel very cautious because it is a typical description of a haunted house where anything could happen. This atmosphere is also typical of that of a murder mystery. To add to the atmosphere or fear and horror were both a baboon and cheetah living in/around the house.
In Lamb to the Slaughter the detectives did not suspect Mary at all, put pressure on her, suspect a women or solve the crime. These were things, which should have been done. Things they did do which they should have done were discussing the crime with Mary, drinking alcohol, eating on duty and eating the evidence the biggest crime of them all. The detectives were very sloppy with the investigation ‘she could hear them speaking among themselves, their voices thick and sloppy.’ This has a double meaning about the detectives and their investigation. They were thick because of eating the evidence and sloppy because of the way they ran the case.
In The Speckled Band both Sherlock Holmes and Helen Stoner suspect Dr Grimesby Roylott. Holmes treats the case as urgent, treats Helen Stoner kindly, spots all the clues, recognises red herrings, takes personal risks to solve the crime. He does this by spotting all of the easy noticeable clues ‘My attention was speedily drawnâ€¦to this ventilator, and to the ropes which hung down to the bed. The discovery that this was a dummy and that the bed was clamped to the floor, instantly gave rise to suspicion that the rope was there as a bridge for something passing through the hole and coming to the bed.
The idea of a snake instantly occurred to me.’ I had an idea that Dr Grimesby Roylott had something to do with the murder, but when Sherlock Holmes revealed it couldn’t be him I had a suspicion that it was an animal because there was a cheetah and a baboon in/around the house. Sherlock Holmes is a great detective because he is very observant and picks up on clues extremely quickly. He also thinks very logically.
In Lamb to the Slaughter, the murderer, Mary Maloney gets away with killing Patrick very easily. She wasn’t suspected at all. At first she was sad and got over this by going to the shop and coming back, to act surprised that Patrick was dead. This doesn’t usually happen in murder mysteries. I think she was clever how she managed to dispose of the evidence. What else is unusual is that the murderer was a 6-month pregnant woman.
In The Speckled Band the murderer, Dr Grimesby Roylott, gets killed by the snake, his secret murder weapon. I think he deserved to get killed because it gave him a taste of his own ‘medicine’ and he is sick, twisted and does not care for any one apart from himself. I like my murder mysteries to have a twist at the end and that good usually wins.
The most exciting part of Lamb to the Slaughter was when Mary Maloney hit her husband over the head with a leg of lamb. ‘At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without and pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb on the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.’ The part which made me carry on reading the story was when Patrick Maloney was going to tell Mary the bad news ‘This is going to be a bit of a shock to 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 to tell you right away. I hope you won’t blame me too much.’
The most exciting part of The Speckled Band was when the snake killed Dr Grimesby Roylott. ‘His chin was cocked upwards, and his eyes were fixed in a dreadful rigid stare at the corner of the ceiling. Round his brow he had a peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed to be bound tightly round his head. As we entered he made neither sound nor movement.’ Another part, which made me want to read on, was when Doctor Roylott followed Helen to Holmes’ office ‘Don’t you dare meddle with my affairs.’
The Speckled Band is set in Victorian times. We know this because it uses old language, and difficult words. We also know this because dogcarts were around in this time. ‘There is no dog cart which throws up mud in that way.’
You can tell the Lamb to the Slaughter is set in the 80’s because the language used is modern. In the story there is also a car ‘tyres on the gravel outside,’ and a thermos bucket ‘Fresh ice in the Thermos Bucket.’ They both show that the story was set in the 1980’s.
I don’t think it is unusual that there are no female detectives because both before and after the 1900’s and during half of the 20th centaury women were only thought of as house wives and who only listen to their father who would have no say in anything.
Both stories are extremely compelling to read. For the younger reader, Lamb to the Slaughter would be the best as it is very short with easy language. But, I would rather read The Speckled Band as it has some difficult language and I like the way Holmes always gets his murderer. It is great to see how Holmes puts the clues together to find the killer.