In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Illustrated by: n/a
Translated by: n/a
Published: This edition: February 3rd 200, Penguin Modern Classics (First Published 1966)
Length: 352 pages
Narrated By: N/A
Genre: Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction Novel, Modern Classic, Crime
Where Did I Get It? I bought a copy to read when it was chosen as our book of the month at Smut Club.
Blurb: The chilling true crime ‘non-fiction novel’ that made Truman Capote’s name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative published in Penguin Modern Classics.
Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human.
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’.
My Review: As is often the way with Book Club books, I would never have chosen to pick this book up off my own back. I had heard of it and knew it was a true story but had never looked into it in any detail as I am not a big non-fiction reader.
It turned out to be better than I was expecting.
I quite enjoyed Capote’s writing style – a blend of journalistic and highly descriptive – I found the whole book very vivid. I had clear pictures of people and places throughout and that helped carry me through the parts I found harder going.
The first section of the book is about the Clutter family and their place in the local society and about the events leading to their sudden deaths, including the journey of the killers themselves. This was very much my favourite part of the book, I romped through it lapping up the details and even re-reading parts as I went along because I enjoyed the descriptions so much.
The second part is about the investigation immediately following the deaths and I really struggled with this bit. At first it was okay but I didn’t like the main Detective on the case which meant that I found it a bit to easy to put the book down during the sections following him.
The journey of the killers and what they did afterwards was fascinating though and more than enough to stop me from abandoning the book completely.
Parts 3 & 4 took you through the eventual capture of Smith & Hickock and the resulting trial and punishment.
There were large sections of this taken up with quotes from legal papers and the like which were a but heavy going and I must confess to skimming over a few of these bits rather than giving them my whole attention.
I did enjoy the profiling of the other criminals sharing the cell block with Smith and Hickock – it was chilling to see the wide array of personalities that all had the capacity to kill in cold blood.
The character profiling was easily my favourite thing about In Cold Blood – I was curious at first about the crime itself, the who and the how and the where – the why was obvious and underwhelming on the surface of it but it wasn’t why they’d gone to do it that ended up being the interesting thing. It was more about them as people – it is so easy to write off murderers as monsters, it was unsettling and fascinating to find yourself almost liking Smith and Hickok as Capote depicted them. They had dreams, they had personalities that weren’t all about guns and violence.
Yes, they obviously had darker tendencies and massive character flaws, but they were very much human. Somehow that made the whole thing even scarier.
Hickock had perverted tendencies toward young girls and Smith thought that was unforgivable and wrong. Smith murdered a family of four without a second thought, but also actively stood between his accomplice and underage girls in the name of morality and ethics.
So often non-fiction books about crimes just give you facts and figures, In Cold Blood gave you all of that without losing any of the humanity of people involved. You never forgot that the Clutter family or their killers were real people – they never felt like statistics or disembodied facts – and that made it a much more absorbing and horrifying read.
My Rating: 3.5/5*
(Also, if you have read In Cold Blood and enjoyed it, I would recommend picking up Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – another Non-Fiction novel that perfectly captures the humanity and horror of all sides involved.)
Sound like your kind of read?