By what means does Conan Doyle create and maintain an Atmosphere of Suspense and Mystery in ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ This short tale shows all the formulae that Conan Doyle uses to create suspense. It adheres to Conan Doyle’s previous successes by using his familiar way of building and prolonging suspense. The ways in which he achieves this are numerous. In this account he uses the description of buildings and objects to create suspense. For example, there is a description of the Roylott Mansion, Stoke Moran.
Both Miss Stoner and Watson tell us of a large house, grey, two curved wings ‘like a crab’, in disrepair, blue smoke curling out of the chimney, and boarded over windows (to promote a sense of secrecy maybe). This description of the house forms suspense solely by creating an image of an eerie house, one that epitomises the stereotypical haunted house. Therefore one is thinking that something thrilling and exciting, but also sinister, is going to happen in this house.
More suspense is built after Watson and Holmes enter the house, when they look at a few of the objects in the murdered woman’s bedroom, more specifically; the bell-pull, the ventilation and the bed. The bell-pull is odd because it is not attached to a bell, but is attached to a hook instead, by the ventilation – therefore doing nothing, as voiced here; “No, its not even attached to a wire. This… fastened to a hook just above where the little opening for the ventilator is.
” The ventilation is weird because it does not lead to any fresh air but instead to another part of the house; “what a fool a builder must be to open a ventilator into another room… he might have communicated with the outside air! ” Finally the bed is odd because it is bolted to the floor meaning that it can’t be moved away from where it already is – by the ventilation and the bell-pull which are of no use; Holmes picks up on this later on; “The lady could not move her bed. It must always be in the same relative position to the ventilator and to the rope…
“These references build suspense because even after Holmes has done a long examination of them and asked himself a few questions, these questions are left unanswered: Whoever designed the room in this way must have calculated a need for it to be so, but who would have done so, and why. It makes you question, it makes you think, it makes you feel uneasy – it creates suspense. The most obvious thing that one notices is the way that Conan Doyle describes and uses characters to produce and sustain the suspense.
There are many examples of this, such as; the gypsies being used as a ‘red herring’ to the investigation. As a reader one thinks that the title ‘Speckled Band’ could refer either to the gypsy ‘band’ or to the curious marks found on the dead woman of a speckled band. The description by Watson of Grimesby Roylott bursting into the room, a man so broad and burly that he nearly fills the doorway, wearing big leather boots and carrying a crop, tanned, deep-set staring eyes, and a long thin nose.
This description makes one think of a menace of a man, maybe a killer, as we’ve already been told of his violent nature – but the idea that he is the killer is immediately dismissed because one is thinking that Conan Doyle wouldn’t make finding the murderer that obvious and easy, it seems too stereotypical, at least to the reader. He is still a suspect because his room is connected to the deceased by a ventilation shaft. Therefore one still wonders whom the murderer is, prolonging the suspense. Ironically in the end it turns out to be Roylott; Conan Doyle has double-bluffed us through his writing.
Another aspect one has to mention is that of the opening scene when Watson mentions that this was the most incomprehensible of all Holmes’ 70-plus cases. Watson describes it as ‘fantastic’, ‘unusual’, and ‘non-commonplace’; we are immediately intrigued, creating a perfect opener for the habitual Holmes reader or any mystery reader as a matter of fact. It makes one want to read on and find out exactly why this could be one of Holmes and Watson’s most strange and memorable cases; again the reader is held in suspense.
The opening is rather abrupt, which quickly and easily draws one in because nowhere in this opening is there a lapse of interest, the reader cannot relax. Then just as one thinks that one has reached a climax, as we think we are going to be told short and quick who the killer was and what exactly it did, Conan Doyle changes the subject to another curiosity; from Watson’s intriguing build-up to Helen Stoner demanding that they come to meet her step-father immediately.
“There are widespread rumours as to the death of Dr Grimesby Roylott which tend to make the matter even more terrible than the truth”, then “… it seems a young lady has arrived in a considerable state of excitement, who insists on seeing me”. Why does a lady want to see him? Why is she in that “considerable state of excitement”? Even more curious a question, What could be more terrible than the truth? Conan Doyle has created urgency, he has created unease, and thereby he has created suspense.