Three ways that Finney creates suspense in this story are:
- In the opening of the story, the reader is unsure of what Tom Benecke’s motivations are, and why he isn’t going with his wife. In the opening paragraph Tom mutters to himself that he is hot, but then realises that it is not heat but his “guilty conscience” making him uncomfortable. At this point, the reader becomes aware that the narrator is deliberately withholding information from the reader. The title promises the reader a dead man: is Tom the man? Or has he killed a man? Or will he kill a man? The narrator already knows but is not telling us. An unreliable narrator creates suspense by making the reader doubt what they are reading.
- Changing the way that time is portrayed: stretching and compressing in order to extend and highlight dangerous moments. At moments when Tom Benecke’s safety on the ledge is precarious the narrator adds in a high level of details. The narrator repeats references to the size of the ledge, the crumbling brick, the window frame and the windowframe putty. These serve to delay the reader in getting to the point at which the focalized character’s safety is assured. The reader is desperate to get to the point at which Tom Benecke either dies or is safe, but the narrator will not let us get there without reading the minutia of every sensation and fleeting thought Tom has.
- Finally, the biggest way that this story makes the reader hold their breath is in the title. From the first word, the reader assumes that there will be a dead man at some point in the story. As Tom Benecke edges and sways along the edge we are just waiting for him to become the dead man that the title has promised us. Even once he is back inside the house we are not convinced because, as mentioned in point 1, the narrator is deliberately misleading us. The feeling at the end of the story is a mixture of relief at Tom’s safety, but also frustration because we feel, as readers, that we have been tricked by an unreliable narrator.