Detective stories have been very popular from the mid 1900's. The main thing that makes the detective genre so appealing is the fact that the author creates an addictive suspense so the reader has to read on to find what happens in the end. It doesn't matter if its traditional like the Sherlock Holmes series or modern like the X- Files they all have that build up of suspense. All the detective stories seem to have this sense of mystery. The most popular stories now are modern detective stories which relate to realistic events or just the absolute abnormal.
The atmosphere of a detective story is unique as it uses a lot of description and the reader is able to create a picture from the writing. I will be comparing and contrasting two detective stories which I have read. The first story is 'The Speckled Band' written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the second 'The Gatewood Caper' written by Dashiel Hammett. I will be discussing how the two are similar or are different and whether they fulfil my expectations of a traditional detective story.
The main points, which I will be focussing on, are: the plot, the characters, the setting, the structure of the stories, the style of writing and the theme of the stories. We expect a traditional detective story's plot to be full of dramatic events which have a great deal of description and interesting vocabulary which enables you to picture the dramatic events. There must be a crime or else it wouldn't be a detective story. The crime could involve violence, a murder or a kidnap.
There must be an evil motives for the villain, to make the story more dramatic, and there could be a chase or some sort of mystery for the reader to solve. In this case we also have two cultures involved 'The Speckled Band' is English and 'The Gatewood Caper which is American. Most English detective stories are set in rural area unlike American Detective stories which are set in cities and populated areas. The English settings are more in aristocrat mansions with a huge family background unlike American settings which are in modern rich peoples houses and are set in penthouses and luxury apartments.
The English detectives are also found to be more passionate about their work unlike the American detective who is more interested in the money and for the extras of the job. The American classic detective stories tend to have more action and tend to be short and get to the point quickly, this is unlike English stories which are more longer and have different type of language altogether. There should be three types of characters in a traditional detective story. They are a detective, a villain and a victim.
I expect a traditional detective to be a male character. He must be very vigilant as he must be able to pick up on any small detail. The detective must be cunning and smart in order to outsmart and catch the villain. The detective must be brave and should not be intimidated by danger, and must be able to act quickly and must have some good common and scientific knowledge. The detective has to intelligent to solve the crime. The villain of the story should be cunning and dangerous to be able to commit a crime deviously.
They are usually lonely or have some kind of emotional or physical illness because of a disturbed background. The villain must have a motive to commit a crime and they must be organised and they rarely care about anyone's safety. They must be able to think up an alibi, but in the end the villain will usually get caught as they have made mistakes in their plans. In a traditional detective story the villain is usually a male. The victim should be helpless and distraught and innocent, and would suffer from the crime either emotionally or physically.
The villain could directly hurt the victim or the victim could have a loved one involved in the crime and indirectly be hurt by the villain. The victim is usually caught by surprise and is usually a female character. The structure of a traditional detective story has a beginning where the crime is already done and is described to some extent, where the reader doesn't know who the villain is, a middle where the detective begins to gather evidence but where there is a period of uncertainty and finally there should be an end where the crime is solved and explained by the detective.
I expect the style of writing in a traditional detective genre to be able to create a mysterious feeling, but the most important thing is that the writer must have the talent of building up tension, as this is the main ingredient in a detective story. The theme of the story ought to have several morals such as the common ones like: good beats evil, criminals always get caught, the innocent succeed and that the detective is always victorious in any personal confrontation. The most important one is that crime doesn't pay. This is the one, which is mostly used, in a traditional detective story.
'The Gatewood Caper' is an American detective story, which includes a kidnapping. Harvey Gatewood, a rich businessman, finds out that his daughter Audrey is kidnapped. He calls and hires a detective, the detective tells Mr Gatewood to pay for the ransom. However Audrey doesn't return after the money is paid and the detective suspects that something is not right. He then goes in search of Audrey and finds her in an apartment with a man. Audrey begins to shoot at the detective through the door, but in the end they both give up.
'The Speckled Band' is part of a series of stories, which include a detective called Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice Watson. Helen Stoner comes to Holmes seeking protection as she is hearing noises which are reminiscent of noises heard by her sister Julia Stoner who had a mysterious death. Her evil stepfather comes and has strong words with Holmes to stay away. However Holmes travels to Stoke Moran, hometown of Helen Stoner. Holmes makes a plan to stay in Helen Stoner's room during the night. They hear these noises and Holmes hits something travelling through the ventilator.
They find out it's a venomous snake and when Holmes hits it the snake travelled back through the ventilator and kills Dr Roylott. The plot of 'The Speckled Band' was packed with dramatic events, which were very well described by the author. Before the events the suspense built up by the author was terrific, I was eager to find out what was going to happen in the end and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made me addicted to the book. However the plot was rather predictable as it was obvious who the villain was. The plot of 'The Gatewood Caper' was less exciting as there were not as many events as in 'The Speckled Band'.
At the end the tension was very good as Audrey had not returned after the payment and then to find out that Audrey had kidnapped herself was a great twist in the story. However it was unable to capture me the same way as in 'The Speckled Band' had. 'The Speckled Band' matched my expectations of a traditional detective plot as it had a crime and the villain had an obvious motive to commit the crime. The Gatewood Caper plot was rather odd and bizarre and was confusing at times as it wasn't easy to understand. The plot of 'The Speckled Band' was simple to follow and there were more exciting events in the story.
The detective in 'The Speckled Band' was very sharp as he was able to pick up on any small detail like when Holmes knew that Ms Stoner had come by a dogcart because of the marks on her coat. Holmes was not intimidated by danger and the threat of Dr Roylott. For instance when Holmes was going in to the house he didn't think twice about it, though he knew Dr Roylott was dangerous. Holmes was knowledgeable, as he knew much about the snake. He thought logically and was thorough as he worked on the facts he had, for example when he was able to conclude that it was a creature that killed Julia.
He knew this from the whip and milk. He was quick thinking, as he was able to see that the bell was a dummy and that the ventilator was built for the murder. He was not interested in the money and we can see this as he only took on the strange and weird cases. This is shown when Watson says: "He did rather for the love of his art than acquirement of wealth" The detective in 'The Gatewood Caper' was a lot younger than Holmes and was really in the business for the money, as he didn't really have to do much to solve the case. He was also less knowledgeable than Holmes.
The Gatewood Caper detective was more laid-back and less formal and this detective is not given a name. Out of the two detectives Sherlock Holmes best matched my expectations of a traditional detective. Holmes was the more traditional one as he did the job for the love of the art unlike 'The Gatewood Caper' detective who was more modern and was in the job for the money. Both the detectives had confrontations with the villain and 'The Gatewood Caper' one was more traditional as it had violence unlike 'The Speckled Band', which was more of a mind game.
Both the detectives had assistants, but Holmes was more traditional as he worked alone unlike 'The Gatewood Caper' detective who was working for an agency. I strongly feel Sherlock Holmes was the more classic detective. He was the fascinating detective who couldn't do a thing wrong. He would do the unexpected and like a classic detective he would solve the mystery before anybody else. Sherlock Holmes would comfort and sympathise with the victim and help them just like a heroic classic detective would.