Sir Conan Doyle’s detective fiction stories, featuring the Sherlock Holmes character, were his most popular works. He used different writing methods to create suspenseful and thrilling short stories. This helped him gain the reputation of being the creator of fiction’s most famous detective. Doyle’s ability to combine different writing techniques and styles to create stories that are exciting and full of tension and anticipation made him an expert in detective fiction. The Adventure of the Speckled Band offers a good example of Doyle combining detective fiction with horror gothic.
Doyle uses characterization to create suspense in his stories. Watson, as the narrator in this story, is telling it first-person. The narrator may be a friend and partner of Sherlock Holmes, but he’s not the lead detective. He is a partner and friend of Sherlock Holmes but he’s not the main detective in the case. It is important to create suspense in the story. Watson’s inability to analyze the cases alone leaves the reader clueless. Doyle did this deliberately because, if they knew from the beginning what the mystery with the speckled line was, the suspense and tension would be gone as readers waited for the case. Watson and Holmes saw the exact same evidence at Helen’s house. Holmes could draw conclusions, whereas Watson claimed that he “could not” (15). see any link between the evidence and the crime. As a result, the reader is not able to figure out the mystery and can only guess the possible answer. Doyle cleverly adds false clues to the story, such as dangerous animals or bands of gypsies. Doyle makes the reader work hard to solve the case and excitedly wait for the final verdict. The mystery surrounding the case creates tension as readers wait to discover the true cause.
Helen, the victim in the case is another example of how Doyle used characterization to make readers feel anxious. She is a helpless, innocent woman who is afraid for her life. She rushes early in the morning to Holmes’s flat wearing a veil that she lifts to reveal her terror. She claims to be shivering because of pure terror, not cold. “Her figure and features were those typical of a 30-year-old woman. However, her hair was prematurely greyed, and she appeared tired and sluggish” (Doyle 2, p. 2). Doyle makes the reader feel sorry for a helpless woman who is afraid. Doyle’s use and dramatizations of Helen’s fear are used to give the readers the impression that this case is dangerous and serious if it’s affecting her physical and mental well-being. Helen lives in a room next to Dr. Roylott, a man with a pure evil nature. The readers are terrified for her life.
Dr. Roylott, another characterization used to frighten the reader. He is violent, short-tempered and has even been in prison. The man is known to be the terror of their village. Watson describes Holmes to Dr. Roylott as a man of enormous size with a face that is “marked with evil passions”, yellowed by the sun. Doyle creates an ideal villain. This man has been described as an evil, immoral individual who can do terrible things. Doyle’s revelation of Dr. Watson is unsettling to readers because he lives next door to Helen, who is terrified and innocent. He is strong and cunning enough beat Helen or possibly kill her. Helen is not safe in her home. Helen’s home does not feel safe. She has nowhere to run to.
Doyle’s perfect setting to increase tension was Helen living next to an evil man. Doyle intentionally placed Helen in the same bedroom where her twin died. This gives the story a creepy, suspenseful feel. Her home is a large mansion in a state of disrepair. Doyle creates the eerie feeling because of the very old house and that “the windows are broken and blocked by wooden boards and the roof is partially caved-in” (11). This house isn’t the kind of place you’d put a “homesweethome” doormat. The discomfort in the house makes the reader feel uncomfortable. The house is the perfect place for a sinister murder to occur.
Doyle uses weather to create an eerie atmosphere for the reader. The wind and rain were howling on the night Helen’s younger sister died. This creates the perfect setting for an eerie crime. Doyle’s setting the scene at a bright and sunny day would be more fearless than one set during a violent storm. Even horror and suspense movies of today use the weather to their advantage in order to create an ominous atmosphere. Doyle foreshadows a repeating crime by adding that “a cold wind blows” (15) the night Holmes, Watson and Helen are staking out Helen’s room. Doyle creates a scene that will evoke the readers’ fears. Readers can better relate to a gothic narrative if they feel the same way as the plot.
The gothic style of writing used by Doyle to develop the story plot also enhances the sensational effect. Doyle’s plot creates tension in the passage by allowing the reader to feel it throughout. It is because the life of a person is at stake. Helen’s life could be at risk if this case isn’t solved quickly. Doyle gives the reader the feeling of a ticking clock by comparing the events leading up Julia’s death with the events Helen is experiencing. Julia heard her soft whistles every night the last few days of her life. Helen reports hearing the same low, humming whistles in the night. Julia passed away just a few days before she was to marry. Helen is getting married soon. Readers know it could be a sign of a death. Sherlock learns that Dr. Roylott has very good reasons for trying to stop his stepdaughters getting married. Readers also learn that Dr. Roylott used the construction to move Helen into Julia’s bedroom, not because of the construction itself but to put her in the room where her sister had died. Doyle gives hints that Dr. Roylott wants to kill Helen so that the readers feel irrational terror because Helen is in danger every night.
Doyle uses tension to enhance the smaller scenes of the story. Julia’s last night is an example. The death has a gothic feel. Helen says that “a vague sense of impending doom impressed (her)”(5). She says their souls are closely related because they were twins. Doyle’s gothic writing style was influenced by the strange connection between Julia and her. The gothic setting adds to the suspense. Julia’s death was tragic and dark. Helen emphasizes Julia’s look of terror as she swayed, shook and fell to her knees. Her life was over before she could even finish a sentence. Doyle creates tension and mystery by using a dramatic, slow death.
Doyle creates suspense in the stakeout scene between Watson and Holmes. The detective and the associate start off their night by talking about the case. Holmes has a feeling of unease because he considers the case as very dangerous. Watson even accepts the pipe from Holmes in an attempt to “turn your mind for a while to something more cheery” (15). Holmes does not feel fear or worry easily. This causes readers to worry as well.
Then, Holmes and Watson begin to scout Helen’s bedroom. Doyle prolongs the scene to build suspense. The nervous narrator says that “the parish timepiece boomed every quarter hour.” These quarters seemed so long! We were waiting in silence for what could happen as twelve struck, then two, then three. Readers wait in anticipation for the final answer to the mystery surrounding the speckled bands. After hours of searching, a low whistling sound is heard. Holmes hurries up and hits a bell-pull with a flashlight. He is still unaware of what Holmes’s rage is directed at. The last sound the narrator is aware of is a “dreadful screaming” (17). Doyle creates a dramatic scene by adding the rapidity of the events. This makes the reader even more curious to know what the speckled group is.
Doyle’s use of damsels-in-distress, villains, dark plots, and old mansions contributes to “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, making it a thrilling and sensational short tale. Doyle can evoke emotions in the audience by creating a sense of irrational dread. He combines the classic detective story with gothic horror.