Mary Maloney is the physical and emotional opposite of Dr Roylott, she is a pregnant wife to a high ranking Police Officer, and is a quiet, gentle pregnant doting housewife who is unselfish and thinks only of her husband. This fits in with the ‘perfect housewife’ image that was still the norm at that time. ‘… each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come… ‘ and ‘… enjoying his company after the long hours… in the house… ‘ The only reason she is pushed towards a psychotic episode is because of Patrick Maloney’s (her husband) affair and plans to break up their marriage.
We, the readers, have absolutely no idea at the beginning that she is the murderess to be, in fact we are lulled into a false sense of security by the quiet atmosphere of the house. The murder is entirely unpremeditated and only occurs because of her husband’s adultery. Mary Maloney is highly successful in the murder of Patrick Maloney as she creates herself an iron-clad alibi in the form of Sam the Greengrocer and then rings the Police herself hysterical and convinces the Detective: Jack Noonan that she cannot be the murderess.
Mary Maloney is the more convincing of the two killers as the situation which she kills in is very realistic whereas a man murdering his two step-daughters with a snake because they are getting married isn’t. The two Detectives are ver different, Jack Noonan is the typical human Detective using normal methods whereas Sherlock Holmes is a superhuman yet cold man, almost like a computer. Jack Noonan uses normal methods of investigation conducting a search of the house and interviewing Mary Maloney and yet misses what are obvious things to the reader such as the leg of lamb and Patrick Maloney’s mistress.
However, Sherlock Holmes is thorough and meticulous and he doesn’t miss a single clue. This is why the cases do not and do get solved. Because Jack Noonan is much more human, he get confused with the effects of one of his colleagues being dead and the seemingly helpless Mary Maloney, this is why he is blinded to the obvious and that he assumes lots about the scene. Sherlock Holmes connects all of the clues with the efficiency of a machine and his investigation works because he never overlooks a single fact, however trivial it may seem.
The reason why Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes to be a superhuman thinking machine was because at the time the Police Force was ailing badly and so the creating of a meticulous character who could connect clues together seamlessly was to try and show the Police Force what they could be aiming for. In ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ the setting for the story is in Britain in the 1950’s, the era of the working husband and the housewife. The house is in a small town or village and probably has a baker, butcher and grocer we know this because Mary Maloney can go out at night and the fact that she visits the greengrocers.
We also know this because the grocer knows Mary Maloney’s first name and this indicates a friendly, close community. There are other clues that point in the direction of the 1950’s: Mary Maloney uses a telephone to call the Police and before the 1050’s, telephones were for the very well off and select few. Also she has lots of expensive meat cuts in the freezer and cooks in a modern oven, this shows that the family is well off and is modern and up-to-date. In addition, Patrick Maloney drinks whiskey which is very expensive and also the Police use forensics to try and determine the killer.
This setting of homeliness gives the reader a false sense of security, they think that although they know the tales is murder story, they won’t believe that it could happen in such an atmosphere. ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ is not the traditional detective story in the plot and the characters, firstly the ending, most typical detective stories end up with the killer being apprehended and the case solved, this is true with characters like Poiroit and Sherlock Holmes. ‘The Speckled Band’ is set in 1883, as Dr Watson tells us, and lives at 22b Baker Street, London.
London at the time was full of thieves, pickpockets, and murderers and this surely inspired Conan Doyle to write a story of a super human detective who always solved the case. There are other clues as to the time they story is set in: Helen Stoner has travelled in a ‘dog cart’ which ,most of the world today do not know what that is, Sherlock Holmes has a maid which was common in those times but not so today. Also the roads that Miss Stoner had travelled on were muddy so not tarmac. In addition, Dr Roylott was willing to kill for i??
250 which today is not a large amount of money but in 1883 it would have been a severe blow to his income. This story is a much more traditional detective story with the obvious ‘good guy’ and the stereotypical ‘bad guy’. Sherlock Holmes always says the right thing because Conan Doyle lived in a society that were obsessed with decorum, appropriate language and manners and so Sherlock Holmes is the perfect ‘gallant gentleman’.
In contrast Mary Maloney just uses conversation to manipulate the Policemen to seeing her version of the story without thinking about the other ways: ‘Well…here you are, all good friends of dear Patrick’s too, and helping to catch the man who killed him. You must be terribly hungry by now… and I know Patrick would never forgive me… if I allowed you to remain in this house without offering you decent hospitality. ‘ The endings of the stories are very different, Sherlock Holmes solves the case and kills Dr Roylott thus closing the case forever. In contrast ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ does not finish and leaves much for the reader’s imagination to do, Mary Maloney is not even suspected of killing her husband and will never be brought to court as the Policemen have eaten the evidence.
I think that ‘The Speckled Band’ is more compelling to read, although it is more difficult to follow and understand as the language is complex, the story is much better and as I like them, has an air of finality at the end. Many people will find ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ more compelling to read as it has a comical side to it and as attitudes had changed, people would not be so surprised to see the author let the murderess get away with it.