Adventure of the Speckled Band Analysis

Discover the features hidden in 'Adventures of the Speckled Band' that make this one of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous short stories.

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This information is taken from: Sherlock Holmes: The Unit Study. It will be live in about one week, so come back soon!

What Makes The Adventure of the Speckled Band the Most Popular of the Sherlock short stories?

Note: In our Sherlock Holmes Unit Study this question can be addressed as a debate, as an essay, or as a literary hunt.

There are, of course, many Sherlock fans who start with The Study in Scarlet and read all the way through the series of fifty-four short stories and four novelettes. But for many readers, The Adventure of the Speckled Band is the first - and maybe even only - Sherlock tale to be read. What makes it so popular?

Sherlock Holmes in Magnifying Glass


Suspense is building all the way through the story. We definitely would have some scary music playing in a movie. But how did Doyle communicate suspense with just his tool-kit of literary techniques?

Foreshadowing is used throughout the story. A literary hunt will give you all these examples of foreshadowing: You get the idea. This isn't a typical who-dun-it detective story. For starters you already have a pretty good idea who dun it - you just don't know what they did. But whatever it was they are about to do it again and you and Watson are left in the dark while the knowlegable Holmes pales in fear.

Can you think of a better short story for building suspense than this?


"Mysteries" and "detective stories" are considered synonyms by some; others consider detective stories a sub-genre of mysteries. Others see them as different genres but with blurred edges.

No matter how one categorizes it, The Adventure of the Speckled Band is both.

While detective stories often have detectives on the hunt for the cause of the (most likely) crime, mysteries don't always require a detective or even a crime. Some of the characteristics that are frequently unique to mysteries include: Both mysteries and detective stories are popular, and when the gloomy overtones of the mysterious crime intersect with the puzzling qualities of a detective story you often have a winner.

What qualities of this story are mysterious? The eerie meets the query in this speckled adventure.


Of course the whole point of a detective story is to discover the criminal and see that appropriate justice is served. But, really, when you are writing fifty-four short detective stories you can't have the criminal hand-cuff and led away by Scotland Yard every single time.

So, Doyle needed a little variety in his endings. And here the speckled band provides a unique ending as the perpetrator becomes his own victim. Sherlock was quite cheerful about his own role in contributing to the death of another, but the reader and detective alike can enjoy the satisfaction of a just ending.

Point of View

Dr. Watson in Magnifying Glass

First Person - Secondary

Sherlock Holmes is one of the first examples of first person-secondary point of view. First person perspective occurs when there is a narrator using the word “I” and “we.” That narrator is Watson. But he is not the main character; Sherlock is the main character. Since Watson is a secondary character, this is first person secondary.

What is the value of having Watson tell the story?

It adds to the suspense of the story. The reader and Watson know that Holmes is on to something, but both have to wait to find out. In reality, Holmes would likely have told his partner and friend his theory while they were waiting. But not-knowing adds to the suspense of the rising action.

Flaws in the Story

No doubt, The Adventure of the Speckled Band IS a great story. But it isn't perfect; it does contain some flaws.

Swamp Adder of India

An adder is a poisonous snake. There is no known “swamp adder of India” though there is a swamp adder in Mozambique which is not yellow-speckled. Much attention has been given to identify if there is a particular snake that meets this description but it would appear that Doyle simply made the name up. Other unrealistic features include: It was probably based on the cobra, a deadly snake from India.

Sherlock Holmes in Magnifying Glass

“And there reared itself from among his hair the squat diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathesome serpent.”

Sounds a bit like a cobra to me.

Watson In The Dark

It really wouldn't make much sense for Holmes to NOT tell Watson what his suspicions were before their long sojourn in the dark. They had plenty of time to talk at the Crown Inn and on their way over. It would make some sense for Sherlock to key him in, "Hey, I'm kind of thinking there might be a poisonous snake slithering down that rope."

Watson was supposed to sit in the dark with his pistol ready to shoot - what? It would make their partnership a little more of a partnership if he had some idea of what he might be aiming at.

But then again, that would mess up the first person - secondary point of view we discussed above and ruin the detective story. That was, afterall, the whole point.

Date of The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Dates of The Fictitious Events (Setting)

Publishing Dates of The Story

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" was the 8th out of 12 stories in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."

Other Information in "Sherlock Holmes: The Unit Study"

Background information on the beginning of the Holmes/Watson partnership is listed.
Reading comprehension questions provided.
Locked Room mysteries described.
List of clues and red herrings (and background information on the phrase "red herring".)

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