Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Doyle’s works provide a touchstone for the reader seeking a guide to the formula for good detective fiction. Many classic elements of style and technique are used with great success in the Holmes stories.
Characteristic of this story and of other Holmes adventures is the use of the first-person narrator who is not the detective. Watson, less observant than Holmes, presents the clues for the reader’s benefit; part of the thrill of reading is in solving the crime, using information provided by Watson without benefit of the doctor’s analysis. The first-person narrator also allows Doyle to mask information from the reader because Watson is limited in knowing what Holmes discovers when he is away, or of knowing what Holmes is thinking.
This tale also contains another familiar device of the detective story: the presence of “red herrings,” false clues drawn across the trail to distract the unwary reader from evidence that is germane to solving the crime. The baboon, cheetah, and band of Gypsies are all false clues. In this story, though, the false clues serve a dual purpose: They also throw Holmes off the trail momentarily, adding to the suspense and, ultimately, to the realism of the adventure.
Extensive dialogue is the primary method for presenting background information and for revealing the detective’s method of operation, providing readers with details essential to solving the crime and explaining how evidence should be interpreted. This dialogue is balanced with extended, minute descriptions of locale and character. The thrill of reading such stories is in making proper deductions from this plethora of information—and misinformation. As in all first-rate detective stories, the evidence provided in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” allows the careful reader to arrive at the right answer. No tricks are introduced at the end of the tale. One need only exercise one’s skills in inductive reasoning to become equal in skill to the world’s most successful detective.