We are not told much about the personality and background of Sherlock Holmes, but we can observe how he solves the crime in this story. We see how Holmes notices little details that we would not necessarily see, or regard as important. For example, he can tell that Helen Stoner travelled to see him by train because he noticed the ticket in her hand, and that she travelled from the station in a dog-cart because he could see the mud stains on her arm. He is very observant, and draws his conclusions from these observations.
If you compare Sherlock Holmes to the police detectives in ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ you find several differences. Firstly, the detectives in ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ are much more police-trained than Holmes and immediately begin to search the house, and take photos, and question Mary, and find an alibi for her (the grocer). They follow all the rules, but don’t use any imagination in solving the crime, unlike Sherlock Holmes.
They were more technologically advanced than in Holmes’s time, but they still couldn’t solve the crime. You get the impression that these officers were not hugely intelligent, but to be fair, they were at a disadvantage – being personally involved. It would be very awkward to accuse your ex-colleague’s wife of killing him. Plus, they had probably met Mary before and wouldn’t think she was capable of murdering anyone, let alone her own husband who anyone could see she adored.
‘The Speckled Band’ is narrated in the first person, from the point of view of Watson, Sherlock Holmes’s very good friend, and indeed the only other character close to Holmes that we are told about. This is a fairly good perspective to see the story from because Watson knows Holmes very well and can tell the reader a lot about him, and if he is acting strangely or has something on his mind. It is a bit biased because you can tell that Watson admires and looks up to Holmes, and that he wouldn’t say anything too bad about him. Sherlock Holmes is presented as a very intelligent, observant, witty and surprising man, but he is also a little reserved and you get the impression that he is a very private person.
I have compared Sherlock Holmes with the detectives in ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, and now I am going to compare Mary Maloney with the other murderer, Dr. Roylott. Dr. Roylott was a rich man who had married a woman called Mrs. Stoner, the mother of two girls called Helen and Julia. Their mother died and Dr. Roylott and the girls went back to his hometown, where his family had once been very rich, but were now poor. Mrs. Stoner had said that when the girls got married they had to be given a large sum of money, which Dr. Roylott no longer had. When Julia got engaged, Dr. Roylott thought of an extravagant plan to murder her. He killed her in cold blood, and was planning to do the same thing to Helen.
Mary Maloney was totally the opposite of this as she and her husband were fairly middle class and normal, and she murdered him in a moment of passion and shock. She had not planned to kill her husband. A similarity between her and Dr. Roylott though, is that neither of them was punished by law for murdering someone. Dr. Roylott might have been, but he was killed, ironically, by the snake he had used to kill Julia Stoner, and Mary Maloney, as far as we know, got away with it by carefully planning for the police officers to eat the evidence.
I also think the period that the stories were written in makes a significant difference. ‘The Speckled Band’ was written in 1888 and is written in language appropriate for the time. For example, the sentences are much longer and detailed in ‘The Speckled Band’. The reason the sentences are shorter in ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ is that it is a more modern story for modern people, and as we watch a lot of films and television programs, we have shorter attention spans and have less time to read. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle uses slower and more elegant language than Roald Dahl, who gets straight to the point, and uses fairly simple language.
I think also the fact that Sherlock Holmes was written in a time when people talked a lot less about their feelings has something to do with his reserved and solitary character, and that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote him this way. ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ was written in 1954 and displays some characteristics specific to that time. The main one of these is the attitude of Mary Maloney. She is perfectly happy to stay at home and is willing to do anything for her husband.
Her main ambition in life was probably just to be the best housewife and mother she could. This does not make her a bad person – this was the accepted role of women in the 50’s. The murder of her husband was probably partly to do with the fact that she would look bad if her husband left her, although this would be subconscious because she did not really know what she was doing when she killed him – she was in shock.
These two stories were written in different times, which makes them differ slightly, but there are also some similarities in them. One is that the murderer has a personal and family-related motive for the murder. They both involve an unusual murder – in ‘The Speckled Band’ the murder is very extravagant and well planned, and in ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ the victim was killed by a leg of lamb, which was later eaten by his ex-colleagues – the police working on the case! Another similarity is that neither murderer was punished by law for committing the crime.
I think that in both ‘The Speckled Band’ and ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, the reader is very much involved with the story. Firstly, in ‘The Speckled Band’, the reader feels involved because Watson is speaking in first person and it’s like he is talking to you. Also the clues are drip-fed to the reader in a way that they build up and you have a chance to make your own theories as to what happened. We are more involved because when the reader begins to get confused, we find out Watson feels the same and he asks all the questions we want to ask Sherlock Holmes. Finding out that Watson is just as confused as we are makes us feel less dense!