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Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Leg of Lamb by Roald Dahl

View Roald Dahl fficial site. Click here

This is probably the most well–known of all Dahl's short stories, simply because (in my opinion) it's so simple. There isn't a single wasted word in it. It's gripping, shocking, and yet the story proceeds in such a rational manner that the reader's suspension of disbelief is never broken. We are with Mary Maloney from the first sentence of the story, and only at the end do we realize that we never really knew her at all.
Spoiler Warning! Mary Maloney is a devoted wife and expectant mother. She waits happily each night for the arrival of her husband Patrick, home from work at the police station. On this particular night, though, she can tell something is wrong. In disbelief, she listens as Patrick tells her that he is leaving her for another woman. [Actually Dahl never really says this; the details are left up to the reader's imagination.] Dazed, she goes into the kitchen to prepare their supper and pulls a large frozen leg of lamb from the deep freeze. Still numb, she carries it into the living room and without warning bashes her husband over the head with it. As she looks at Patrick lying dead on the floor, she slowly begins to come back to her senses. Immediately she realizes the ramifications of what she has done. Not wanting her unborn child to suffer as a result of her crime, she begins planning her alibi. She places the leg of lamb in a pan in the oven and goes down to the corner grocery to get some food for "Patrick's dinner" (making sure the grocer sees her normal and cheerful state of mind). She returns home and screams when she finds Patrick lying on the floor. She calls the police and informs them that she found her husband lying dead on the floor. Within hours swarms of officers are searching the house and conducting an investigation. Mary's story of coming home from the grocer and finding him is corroborated as she had planned. While the police are searching fruitlessly into the night for the murder weapon, Mary offers them some lamb that she had prepared for dinner. They are happy to oblige. While they lounge in the kitchen and discuss the case (their mouths "sloppy" with meat), Mary Maloney sits in the living room and giggles softly to herself.

Classroom Activities

These exercises were sent in by Frankie Meehan, an ESL Teacher at United World College of SE Asia, Singapore. If you have any questions, please e-mail him at frankierose@pacific.net.sg. Thanks Frankie!

NOTE: Any page/line numbers below refer to Tales of the Unexpected, Penguin, 1979. You may need to change them to reflect the particular version of the story you're using.

ANOTHER NOTE: Mr. Meehan acknowledges that the "Perfect Murder" activity is not original. However, he is unaware of the original source.


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1. Jigsaw

The following excerpts all come from the short story. They are jumbled up. Try to arrange them in the correct order.

"For God's sake," he said, hearing her, but not turning round, "don't make supper for me. I'm going out."


"Tired, darling?"
"Yes," he said. "I'm tired."


"It's the old story," he said. "Get the weapon and you've got the man."


"This is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I'm afraid," he said.


When the clock said ten minutes to five, she began to listen, and a few moments later, punctually as always, she heard the tyres on the gravel outside...


"Personally, I think it's right here on the premises."


All the old love and longing for him welled up inside her, and she ran over to him, knelt down beside him, and began to cry her heart out.


"Quick! Come quick! Patrick's dead!"


Soon, other men began to come into the house. First a doctor, then two detectives, one of whom she knew by name.

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2. The Perfect Murder

What would be the ingredients of the "perfect murder"?

Put the following ideas into order of importance. (Add ideas of your own if you want to.)

a) It should be easy to arrange.
b) It should leave no clues.
c) There should be no noise.
d) It should look like suicide.
e) It should take place in a lonely, isolated place.
f) It should be cheap.
g) No violence should be necessary.
h) It should look like an accident.
i) It should be quick.
j) The murderer should have a good alibi.

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