Before we read any murder mystery there are certain criteria and rules that we expect to find in the story and usually the way we judge a murder mystery is by how well the story fits our prior expectations. In typical murder mysteries we usually expect to have a psychopathic but usually intelligent murderer and a weak helpless victim, we expect a big mansion as the setting and a highly intelligent and quirky detective solving the case. The setting of a murder story is a very important feature and much emphasis is usually put on the setting, as this is where much of the story takes place.
My expectation for the setting in a murder mystery is an eerie old place like an old mansion, which is found in many murder mysteries. In Lamb to the Slaughter, at the scene of the crime there is a very calm and relaxed atmosphere “The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight – hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. ” It seems like an idyllic family house and the married pair seems very content, there is no initial feeling of hostility.
“On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whisky.Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos Bucket. Although there is calm and relaxed atmosphere, it is a little too calm which creates tension. This setting is very unconventional and does not fit the trend of typical murder mysteries and certainly does not match my prior expectations.
The scene of the crime in ‘The Speckled Band’ is an old house. It is described in an eerie way; “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. 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 scary atmosphere.The atmosphere makes me feel very cautious because it’s a typical description of an old mansion. I would relate this atmosphere to a typical atmosphere of a murder mystery, to add to this atmosphere or fear and horror were both a baboon and cheetah in the house. The mention of the ‘claws of a crab’ while describing the house shows that the setting is supposed to feel scary and Conan Doyle uses personification to compare the house to a predator.
This is a typical setting and fits my expectations very well it is just how I would expect the setting for a murder mystery to be.Another essential ingredient for a murder mystery is a detective, there must be one present to solve the case, or at least try to. The sort of detective we have come to expect to find is a very quirky, highly intelligent and almost super-human man with abnormally astute powers of deduction. The main detective in the Lamb to the Slaughter although there are three others there, is Sergeant Jack Noonan. He is definitely not over observant or intelligent.
Firstly, he allows Mrs Maloney to persuade him to drink some whiskey while on duty.This makes him less observant, since whiskey is strong enough to dull the mind and the senses. He also assumes that since Patrick Maloney was hit with a large, blunt, heavy object, it had to be a man since a woman may not have been able to use an object that heavy. His phrase for cases like this one was ‘Get the weapon, you’ve got the man’, he orders his men to search for the weapon for six hours, even though if it had been an attack like he suggests, it is more likely the murderer would have taken the weapon away from the scene then buried it or hidden it somewhere.
This all shows that he doesn’t follow up every angle of the case. He is definitely not the detective we expect to find trying to solve the murder and this is another big contrast to my expectations. In The Speckled Band however we have a very different character, the well-known Sherlock Holmes, a very sophisticated and well-educated man. Holmes has a clear and very sharp ability to deduce even the most complex mysteries, Dr Watson even says ‘I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations, and admiring…
(the way in which)… e unravelled the problems which were submitted to him. ‘ Holmes takes every chance he gets show off his abilities.
When talking to Helen Stoner, he says ‘You have come by train I see… I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of your left glove.
‘He then goes on to deduce that she went to the train station by dogcart. ‘The left arm of your jacket is spattered with mud in no less than seven places. The marks are perfectly fresh. There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and only when you sit on the left hand side of the driver. Holmes is presented as an observant, intelligent and committed detective, which is the typical investigator’s role in a murder mystery, he is what I expect to find and this again shows the conventionality of The Speckled Band. The typical victim in a murder mystery is usually a woman, and one who is rich or about to come into money.
In The Speckled Band, Miss Helen Stoner fits this description perfectly. She is obviously a woman, and a scared one, terrified by her predicament. ‘It is not cold which makes me shiver..
. It is terror’.So we must look elsewhere to find the victim and the answer is her husband Patrick. Firstly, he’s a policeman- a sergeant- so that gets rid of the anxious, terrified image. Secondly he seems quite aggressive, but that could be just the news that he’s just about to tell his wife. Also he’s not particularly rich, and the only wealth he’s likely to come into in the near future is his next pay cheque, so he is definitely not the typical victim. He seems to have done something scandalous which, when he tells his wife, becomes her motive.
This day when he comes home, he is particularly on edge because of whatever has happened, you can tell this by the way he acts in particular. He seems irritated and gives short answers to the questions Mrs Maloney asks. ‘”Tired darling? ” “Yes” he said, “I’m tired”‘ He also seems to be drinking more than usual, draining half a glass of his whiskey and soda ‘in one swallow’. He does not act at all how we would expect a victim to act and if anything is acting like a potential murderer, keeping Lamb to the Slaughter more and more distant from my expectations.
The character which most emphasis must be put on in a murder mystery is the murderer, which we would expect to be a very evil, nasty person with a good reason to kill somebody. In The Speckled Band the murderer is Dr Roylott, a big strong man with very few friends but with 2 daughters living at home. The murderer, Dr Roylott is a very violent man and you can assume that he is the murderer in this story just by the description Dr Watson gives of him. He is described as ‘a huge man’, who possessed ‘A large face seared with a thousand wrinkles and marked with every evil passion’.
He has ‘deep-set, bile shot eyes’ and a ‘high thin fleshless nose, (which) gave him the resemblance of a fierce bird of prey’ Dr Roylott would seem to be evil from the start. Watson said that his face was ‘marked with every evil passion’ and this appearance gives a prediction of what the personality may be like. Conan-Doyle keeps the theme of conventionality going and there are no differences from what we expect from our murderer. In Lamb to the Slaughter however, the murderer is not so typical.In fact, Mrs Mary Maloney is more of a typical victim than a murderer. She is a person who ‘now and again.
.. would glance up at the clock…
merely to please herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come. ‘ She already seems like a loving, caring housewife waiting for her husband to come home after work and hardly capable of murder. Roald Dahl goes against the rules that usually apply to creating a murderer and sends us into further doubt about how effective Lamb to the Slaughter really is as a murder mystery.When all the murders have been committed and the red herrings thrown, it comes down to the ending, in a typical ending the usual sequence of events that I expect to find are that the detective gathers many people in a room together and reveals to them how he very cleverly worked out who did it and why. The Speckled Band ends with Holmes figuring out the mystery, and thwarting the evil Dr Roylott, using the Dr’s own method of killing his daughters to put an end to him, this is a strange ending as we never expect the murderer to also end up dead.It is conventional in the respect that the detective catches the villain and justice is done, although Holmes does not get a chance to show off his expertise as only Watson was there to witness it.
The ending to Lamb to the Slaughter is very different and the main reason for this is that the murderer Mary Maloney is never actually found out and gets off scot-free, this is highly unconventional and shows the ineffectiveness of the story.The best part about the ending of Lamb to the Slaughter is the twist that occurs at the end, with the police detectives actually eating the murder weapon removing any evidence, this shows more about the character of Mrs Maloney than it does about the whole story but does give it some originality as well. Neither of the endings fitted my expectations very well and were different in almost every way, they were both very original but in my opinion did not make either story very effective as murder mysteries.
Comparing the two stories for effectiveness is not very easy as neither story is perfect, I found The Speckled Band to be a better murder mystery mainly because in Lamb to the Slaughter there was no mystery about it, it was just a story about a woman killing her husband which left it a bit unfulfilling. The Speckled Band stuck to many of the rules that I outlined as expectations of a murder mystery and so overall was quite effective and throughout was conventional in almost every aspect.Lamb to the Slaughter however bent many of the rules of a typical murder mystery and was original in contrast to The Speckled Band’s conventionality.
The main ingredient of a detective story is that the villain is caught and justice is achieved. This happens in The Speckled Band, with the poetic justice of Dr Roylott’s death, but in Lamb to the Slaughter it doesn’t, and the villain gets completely over-looked. Even if they had found her out, they wouldn’t have any evidence. Many ingredients are missing in Lamb to the Slaughter, so for this reason I find The Speckled Band to be more effective as a murder mystery.