Style and Technique

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Last Updated on June 2, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325

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.

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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.

Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 176

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" exemplifies Conan Doyle's formula for the Sherlock Holmes stories. Miss Stoner tells her tale to Holmes and Watson; Holmes questions her; he and Watson examine the scene of the crime and he devises a plan of action; the murderer is caught in the act; and Holmes explains how he deduced the solution to the mystery. More than in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the pleasure in the short story stems from following Holmes from clue to clue. Conan Doyle is scrupulously fair in presenting most of the details that Watson observes while he records Holmes's activities. Holmes sees more than Watson, but the basic clues are before the reader prior to the revelation of the mystery's solution. Readers may try to outthink Holmes, and Holmes's explanation may evoke the pleasure of recognition as he sorts out the clues. In addition, the story is a good adventure, populated by gypsies, exotic wild animals roaming freely, and a monstrous villain, with most of the action taking place in a dark old house.

Social Concerns

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 253

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" focuses on the helplessness of children and women in a society that gives all legal power to adult males. The Stoner twins' inherited fortunes are controlled by their cruel stepfather, Dr. Grimesby Roylott, and the twins may secure their inheritances for themselves only by marrying. When the marriage of one is soon to occur, she dies horribly, crying to her sister, "Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!" Two years later, Helen is to be married; she is frightened for her life and asks Sherlock Holmes to help her. This reads like a fairy tale, with Holmes as the gallant knight answering the call of a maiden in distress, but at bottom it is a tale of a powerless woman.

The short story also presents a social theme similar to that in The Hound of the Baskerville (1901). In the novel, the compassionate Sir Charles Baskerville brings order and prosperity to his community by assuming his proper role as baronet of Baskerville Hall. An outsider, Stapleton, creates disorder by trying to acquire the position belonging to Sir Charles — a position to which Stapleton has no right. In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," Grimesby Roylott assumes his rightful role in the manor house at Stoke Moran but dashes the hopes of the local citizens by ignoring his duties as community leader. He is cruel and brutal, leaving bruises on Helen and terrifying his neighbors. A destructive man, he surrounds himself with disorder and ruin.

Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315

Conan Doyle was well read in the field of mysteries and drew on many sources for his own well-wrought stories. The most important precedents for the Holmes adventures were the tales i of "ratiocination" of Edgar Allan Poe and the novels of Wilkie Collins. Poe's tales feature the great detective Auguste Dupin, a Frenchman who uses his intellect to solve bewildering crimes. As in the Holmes stories, someone brings Dupin a mystery; then Dupin sifts through the clues and devises a plan to unmask the villain. Conan Doyle's stories follow this pattern, even making Holmes analytical and arrogant like Dupin.

In his two best novels, The Woman in White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868), Collins tells the stories through the letters and diaries of the characters. This technique creates a tone of immediacy, as if the reader were seeing the narrative unfold moment by moment. In addition, the mystery is enhanced because the reader can know no more than the characters. Yet, all the clues are presented: The reader may sift through them and try to be a step ahead of the characters. In the Holmes adventures, Watson provides a firsthand account of events, almost as if he were writing a diary. In addition, Collins mixed the Gothic atmosphere of the supernatural into his fiction, thus making everyday scenes and events seem full of suspense and threatening doom. "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" also uses this technique, making even quiet evenings in the country seem ominous and dangerous. Some critics have gone so far as to assert that Sergeant Cuff from Collins's The Moonstone is the model for Sherlock Holmes because both men look alike, are analytical, and retire to the country, Cuff to raise roses and Homes to keep bees. Whatever the sources for the Holmes adventures, their ingenuity, blend of crime and day-to-day life, and their clear narratives make them original and engrossing reading.

Adaptations

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 25

Please see the "Adaptations" section of the entry on The Hound of the Baskervilles for an accounting of the adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

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