How Arthur Conan Doyle Creates an Atmosphere of Mystery and Builds Suspense in The Speckled Band
In many of Holmes' adventures, Conan Doyle used a successful personal
formula to create mystery and build suspense, and "The Speckled Band"
is no exception.
Watson begins the story by stating that he cannot recall any case that
represented more 'singular features' than that of the one he is about
to narrate. Despite this rather impressive beginning, analysis of the
other adventures reveals that this is the fairly 'standard' opening
for Conan Doyle.
The reader then learns that 'The Speckled Band' is about the
assistance that Holmes provided to a helpless young woman, by the name
of Miss Helen Stoner. Miss Stoner is a client who turns up at Baker
Street very early one morning in a 'pitiable state of agitation' to
seek Holmes' help. Her vulnerable state and appearance with 'her face
all drawn and grey, with restless, frightened eyes, like those of some
hunted animal' quickly engage the sympathy of the reader. Generally
speaking, she is portrayed by Arthur Conan Doyle as a naive, weak and
vulnerable woman whom we later discover has been taken advantage of by
her 'evil' stepfather. This is the kind of stereotype Holmes or the
writer had of women, (although the only person to have yet outwitted
Holmes in the adventures is a woman, namely Irene Adler in 'A Scandal
in Bohemia'; yet to the readers and Holmes this is presented more as a
curiosity than fact) as we encounter desperate female characters in
many of the adventures, for example, 'A Case Of Identity', etc.
Miss Helen Stoner's problem turns out to be quite similar to that of
Miss Mary Sutherland in 'A Case of Identity'. Both these ladies are
being misused for their money by their legal guardians. In Miss
Sutherland's case, her stepfather gets away his mischief as 'the law
cannot touch [him]; knowledge of this case may intrigue the reader
into wanting to know whether the results will also be the same on this
Helen Stoner then starts her story with only vague details of her
dilemma. Her lack of precision can be said to be deliberate on the
part of the author as it gives rise to questions like 'Why can't she
stand the strain no longer'? How is she being strained? Who is 'he'
who cares for her? Why has she aged so quickly? What is the 'terror'
and 'fear' that makes her shiver? Similarly, Arthur Conan Doyle takes
focus to comment on the clients 'weary and haggard' expression rather
than the actual case so as to give as little 'mystery-solving'
information as possible but still maintain the readers interest
through arousing their concern for Miss Stoner's situation. This
prompts the reader to read on and find out how Holmes can be of
assistance to this woman and help 'throw a little light through the