Lamb to the Slaughter

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"Lamb to the Slaughter" (1953) is a short story by Roald Dahl. It was initially rejected, along with four other stories, by The New Yorker, but was published in Harper's Magazine in September 1953.[1] It was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that starred Barbara Bel Geddes and Harold J. Stone. Originally broadcast on April 13, 1958, this was one of only 17 AHP episodes directed by Hitchcock. The episode was ranked #59 of the Top 100 Episodes by TV Guide in 2009.[2] The story was adapted for Dahl's British TV series Tales of the Unexpected. Dahl included it in his short story compilation Someone Like You. The narrative element of the housewife killing her husband and letting the policemen partake in eating the evidence was used by Pedro Almodóvar in his 1984 movie What Have I Done to Deserve This?, with a leg of mutton.

"Lamb to the Slaughter" demonstrates Dahl's fascination with horror (with elements of black comedy), which is seen in both his adult fiction and his stories for children.[3] The story supposedly was suggested to Dahl by his friend Ian Fleming: "Why don't you have someone murder their husband with a frozen leg of mutton which she then serves to the detectives who come to investigate the murder?".[4]

Plot summary[edit]

Mary Maloney, a housewife devoted to making a sweet home for her husband, and heavily pregnant with their first child, awaits her husband Patrick's return home from his job as local police detective. Mary is very much content in her marriage and believes her husband to be as well. When he returns Mary notices he is uncharacteristically aloof, and assumes he is tired from work. After having more to drink than usual, Patrick reveals to Mary what is making him act strangely. Although it is not explicitly said, one can infer that Patrick asked for a divorce as he states she "will be looked after".

Seemingly in a trance, Mary fetches a large leg of lamb from the deep-freezer in the cellar to cook for their dinner. Patrick, his back to Mary, angrily calls to her not to make him any dinner, as he is going out. While he is looking out of the window, quite suddenly, as if she is acting without thinking, Mary strikes Patrick in the back of the head with the frozen lamb leg killing him instantly.

Mary realizes Patrick is dead and begins, rather coldly and practically, to ponder what must happen now. There is the baby to consider, she knows what the law does with a murderer, she will not risk the child sharing her fate. She owes it to the child to escape discovery if she can. She prepares the leg of lamb she used as a weapon and places it in the oven to somewhat destroy the evidence. Then she considers an alibi. After practising a cheerful mask and some innocuous remarks to make in conversation, she visits the grocer and chats blandly with him about what to make for Patrick's dinner. Upon her return to the house and to the room where her husband lies dead on the floor, she acts surprised and meaningfully cries. She then calls the police.

When the police (who are all friends of her husband) arrive, they ask Mary questions and look at the scene. Considering Mary above suspicion, the police conclude Patrick was killed by an intruder with a large blunt object, likely made of metal. After they make a fruitless search around the house and surrounding area, Mary is reminded the leg is just about done and offers it to the policemen. She points out they have already been working through and past the dinner hour, and that the meat will otherwise go to waste; they hesitate but accept. During the meal, as Mary sits nearby but does not join them, the policemen discuss the murder weapon's possible location. One officer, his mouth full of meat, says it is "probably right under our very noses". Mary, overhearing them, begins to giggle.


Alfred Hitchcock Presents[edit]

"Lamb to the Slaughter"
Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode
Episode no.Season 3
Episode 28
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Written byRoald Dahl
Story byRoald Dahl
Teleplay byRoald Dahl
Presented byAlfred Hitchcock
Produced byJoan Harrison
Featured musicCharles Gounod
Cinematography byJohn L. Russell
Editing byEdward W. Williams
Original air dateApril 13, 1958 (1958-04-13)
Running time30 min.
Guest appearance(s)

Barbara Bel Geddes

Episode chronology
← Previous
"Disappearing Trick"
Next →
"Fatal Figures"
List of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes

Hitchcock presents this episode from a supermarket setting where he's given a ticket "for blocking an aisle during the rush hour", even though he claims to have been in the slow lane. Patrick declares that he is leaving Mary, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, for another woman. The adaptation otherwise follows the original story, with Harold J. Stone as the police detective in charge of the investigation. At the end of the program, Hitchcock explains that Mary Maloney finally was caught after trying to bump off her second husband in the same manner because "he was the forgetful type and had forgotten to plug in the freezer", making the meat "as soft as jelly".

Tales of the Unexpected[edit]

In 1979, the story was adapted by Robin Chapman for Roald Dahl's British television series Tales of the Unexpected, with Susan George as Mary and Brian Blessed as the police detective in charge of the investigation of her husband's murder. This episode ends slightly differently from the original story: Having finished the leg of lamb, the four police officers get up and leave the kitchen. The last of them stops and turns back, looking intently at the leg bone resting on the serving platter. He then scrapes the contents of the platter into the kitchen bin.


  1. ^ "Lamb to the slaughter". Harpers. 1 September 1953. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  2. ^ "TV Guide's Top 100 Episodes". Rev/Views. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  3. ^ Roald Dahl: The Storyteller, by Jason Hook, page 21
  4. ^ Jennet Conant, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, 2008. p. 333

External links[edit]