Thursday, October 05, 2006

Roald Dahl: Master of the twisted short story

Roald Dahl's 1953 short story, Lamb to the Slaughter, is one of my all-time favourite crime stories.

It opens with Mary Maloney, six months pregnant, waiting devotedly for her husband to return home from work. When he does she makes him a drink of whisky and soda water and then is content to sit quietly and "luxuriate in his presence" as he relaxes. But this evening Patrick tells her he is leaving her, although the reader is not told the reason why.

Mary is shocked and disbelieving. On automatic pilot, she walks down to the cellar where the freezer is, thinking she'll make some supper. The first object that comes to hand is a leg of lamb. It is frozen solid; as hard as a steel club. In less than a minute that leg of lamb has become one of the most unlikely murder weapons in crime fiction history.

Now it is up to Mary to cover her tracks, which she does brilliantly. She puts the leg of lamb in the oven and turns it on high, before setting up an alibi for herself. And the twist in the tale? By 9pm that leg of lamb has been cooked to perfection, and the gang of hungry policeman who have just spent hours searching for the murder weapon - a heavy, blunt instrument - don't require much persuasion on Mary's part to sit down and eat some lamb...

Roald Dahl was a true master of the short story, producing fiction which was always entertaining and always original! While much of his short fiction could not be classed as mystery, they all do have some element of the macabre or the criminal. Man from the South is another favourite of mine.

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