In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (6511257)

by Truman Capote

Other authorsH. Wolff (Editor), Tere Loprete (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1964

Call number

364.15 CAP



Random House (1964), Edition: 1st, 344 pages


National Bestseller  On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.  As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

Media reviews

If nothing else, In Cold Blood justifies another Capote conviction: that when reportage commands the highest literary skills, it can approach the level of art.

User reviews

LibraryThing member elliepotten
Wow, this is an incredible book - and so much more accessible than I was expecting! In fact, I'd go as far as to call it compulsively readable... In Cold Blood is surely Truman Capote's masterpiece (Holly Golightly might be cute as a button, but she just doesn't compare) and knocks modern true crime into the dust. It takes the murder of a Kansas family on their ranch and turns it into a jigsaw puzzle of brilliant storytelling and evocative journalism.

One mid-November night in 1959, four members of the wealthy Clutter family were tied up, shot and killed in their home. Herb Clutter, a successful rancher, along with his wife and two children Nancy and Kenyon, were found dead the next morning when friends arrived to catch a lift to church. The book explores how this horrific crime affected the surrounding community, and how the authorities locally and across the US worked tirelessly to catch the culprits. Alongside events in Kansas, Capote simultaneously offers us the story of the murderers themselves. Perry Smith and Dick Hickock both had charismatic personalities and complicated back stories, and after the Clutter murders managed to evade the law for over a month and a half before they were finally captured, jailed and taken to trial for their crimes. They were hanged in April 1965.

So far, so Crimewatch. What really makes this book special is how much heart and soul Capote pours into it. His eye for a good story and his focus on people rather than process render In Cold Blood as gripping and enjoyable as a novel. The amount of painstaking work he must have put into bringing this sweeping story together is genuinely awe-inspiring. For me, there was also the intriguing fact that Capote was known to have become close to Perry Smith during his research - how much did that skew how he was portrayed? It was certainly fun to wonder as I was reading.

Smith and Hickock sit right at the heart of the book, and it is their humanity that provided the most disturbing and thought-provoking aspect of my reading experience. I found myself reflecting on the complexities of law and order, and the validity of the death penalty. I began to consider the murderers more closely, to ponder whether one was more guilty than the other and what made them so - their mental health, their level of participation, their attitude? There were moments where Hickock melted into a normal American boy, and many times where I felt genuine sympathy for Perry and quite liked him - until some little word or gesture reminded me exactly what I was reading and what he had done.

In short, In Cold Blood has everything I want from a book: intriguing characters, an exciting narrative, thought-provoking themes and superb writing. The fact that the entire book is a work of true crime only adds to its brilliance, because every detail, movement and conversation had to have been so meticulously researched and slotted together to create this perfect piece of storytelling. I now have the 1967 film adaptation to watch and two more Capote/Hickock/Smith movies to track down (Capote and Infamous) - and In Cold Blood is taking its place as one of my favourite reads of 2012! Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Ray_Cavanaugh
With this book, Capote fuses thorough investigative journalism with first-rate fiction-writing. This is the “non-fiction novel” which Norman Mailer wished he had written.

I tend to do everything physically possible in front of the television. Sometimes, if especially compelled, I reach for the mute button. In Cold Blood compelled me to turn off the entire TV.

Prior to reading it, I’d sometimes thought of this book and cynically (ignorantly) assumed it was an over-hyped tale about some sick losers who placate their frustrated vanities through murder.

However, it soon dawned on me that Capote was doing much more - he hauntingly contrasts the wholesome banality of God-fearing rural Midwesterners with the chaos of underclass vagrants who - along with their demons, pipe-dreams and vices - drift whichever way the wind blows.

These two types of people, so different in temperament and background, come together one night in a demented scene of envy, futility, helplessness, self-disgust, desperation and, of course, murder.

I’m two-thirds of the way through. I no longer even disrespect this riveting gem of a book by bringing it into the TV room. Upon finishing it, I will add it to my small private shelf consisting solely of books which I permanently keep for multiple readings.
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LibraryThing member kaionvin
A few weeks ago, I saw the 1948 movie Call Northside 777, about a cynical reporter who gets caught up in unraveling decades-old murder case after coming across the convicted's mother's plea in the ads. It's a solid enough film, but also unremarkable, other than starring post-war James Stewart and using real New York locations. But there is one main difficultly in evaluating Call Northside 777 from the year 2012, and it's the same difficulty I encountered evaluating In Cold Blood: the year 2012 has "murder" saturation.

I put it in quotation marks because, actually, in the United States, the rate of murders and other such violent crimes have been decreasing for two decades (2009 was declared the safest year since 1968). But it'd be hard to see that looking at the "true crime" and the "procedural" genres. Every violent crime that makes it onto the news results in a few book deals, there's whole channels dedicated to dissecting the trials of such photogenic crime, the procedurals that have occupied vast majority of CBS's primetime schedule for the past 10 years, and I could go on, but I will illustrate it with a single example: Law and Order. Law and Order is not only a show that ran on NBC for 20 years. It's a franchise— that promises the audience a murder, its investigation and trial, and a satisfying resolution in 45 minutes. And while the specifics are limited to the L & O franchise, the attitude is not. It's has indeed saturated the culture to become a genre, aka constructed of expected tropes— whether the genre is delivered through a segment on 60 Minutes or a Millenium novel.

And from that context, it feels almost impossible for me to see either Call Northside 777 or In Cold Blood, which hails from 1965, on their own terms. There's actually a ten minute sequence in the middle of Northside dedicated to a lie-detector test, in which the film explains both to the wrongly-convicted man and the audience what a lie-detector is, how it is conducted, and its legal relevance. It's kind of amazing.

In Cold Blood, hailing seventeen years later isn't quite so quaint, but it was still a mighty struggle to surmise what contemporary audiences saw in it. This was the book that scared people into locking their doors at night? This is "chill[ing]" and "harrowing"? This is the book that has "poignant insights into the nature of American violence"? Because it's rather hard to see any of that from the actual text. Having established what isn't there, what is there?

The good: I appreciate that Capote spends time fleshing out the Clutter Family beyond their status as "victims", and his florid writing style is pleasant, if at times, rather long-winded. In Cold Blood in general is split fairly evenly between the townspeople (including the Clutters)/law enforcement investigating the case and the murderers (who are identified from fairly near the beginning of the narrative).

The bad: Capote does with the journalistic conventions of acknowledging his own presence on the proceedings and citing his sources. Arguably this is acceptable "creative nonfiction" writing, is intended to "smooth" out the patchwork of information Capote used, and involve the reader more deeply in the storytelling. However, as I was reading In Cold Blood, I found the absence of these acknowledgments incredibly distracting— at one particularly laughable passage, Capote actually cites himself as "a journalist with whom [the convicted] corresponded and who was periodically allowed to visit" rather than acknowledge getting the interview personally. Furthermore, these omissions made me question how "creative" Capote was getting. Capote clearly shows a strong positive bias towards one of the convicted perpetrators over the other, and without acknowledgment of how that could've been a subjective factor in his writing process, it only serves to call into question all the supposed objective truth he was portraying. I haven't studied the case myself, so I cannot confirm these suspicions (but I have read complaints from those who have, who say Capote invented a few scenes and conflated several characters for storytelling convenience), but they all contributed to a rocky reading experience.

And ultimately, it all circles back to my original difficulty. I didn't really see the point of In Cold Blood, outside of Capote's extreme empathy for one of the murderers (which as I have said, went unexplored and unacknowledged). It's not a particularly extra-ordinary crime; the narrative says itself there were several similar crimes happening around the country in that time period. It's not a particularly ordinary crime either; the perpetrators had mental health problems which were the primary motivators for the crime, and their victims were chosen largely randomly. It's not a very important crime; Capote throws in a last-minute "reform the insanity plea" appeal near the end of the story, but as it is thrown in rather haphazardly and goes against the grain of the narrative thread he has spun before, it is largely dismissible. It doesn't feel like much of anything, to be honest, and perhaps that is completely a side effect of murder-culture on my psyche.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
An excellent piece of investigative journalism. Although called the first "non-fiction novel" I don't consider it a novel. To do so would suppose that journalism is objective, it is not, and anyway by most accounts Capote mostly got it right. It's gripping journalism, extremely well researched, and very American. The juxtaposition of Capote, a liberal New Yorker, among the conservative mid-westerners should not go unnoticed. It strikes a chord with the American paradoxical character of "the new" versus "stability"; change versus safety; the search for frontier versus authenticity; the fear of anarchy versus the fear of authority; liberal versus conservative. On the one side the ultimate in safety, security and authority is represented by the Cutter family - and on the opposite side the killers, younger and free, represent change, "the new" and anarchy. Capote instinctively tapped into this dialectic and became part of it himself as an upstart homosexual New Yorker in the middle of stable, secure and patriarchal Kansas. This sort of "meta" author mirroring the story is the real aesthetic and creative achievement that has kept it a classic while later "new journalism" works, characterized by their use of literary techniques applied to non-fiction, have rarely if ever exceeded Capote's initial genesis.… (more)
LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 4.75* of five

BkC13) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote: As good as it gets. Only really good thing he wrote.

The first statement being unassailable, I'll focus on the second.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is fun, and a little bit risqué, but deathless literature? Even a well-made novella? Not so much. Other Voices, Other Rooms? A roman à clef that, because it dealt with hoMOsexuals (plural) in 1948, was much tutted over and hollered about. Reading it in the 21st century, one is struck at just how dreary adolescence as a subject of fiction almost always is, the queer factor being so very much less of an issue than it was back then when mastodons roamed Manhattan and giant krakens swam the seas.

His short stories, A Christmas Memory in particular, are sometimes brilliant. It was his métier. He excelled at it, and In Cold Blood is the anomaly in his career. The fact that he reputedly had a sexual affair with Perry Smith, and the fact that his cousin Harper Lee was deeply involved in his creation of the book, make me wonder if he wasn't simply a front for Harper Lee's second novel publication. He would have been better able to benefit from it, being completely Lee's opposite when it comes to publicity, and his personal emotional stake in the tale and its outcome would doubtless appeal to Lee's apparent help-the-underdog bias. Speculation, and without insider information, I grant you. But I can't help feeling the beauty and the shimmering perfection of In Cold Blood, coupled with the complete absence of any further publications from Capote after this book, are...suggestive.

None of which really matters a lot. In Cold Blood is excellent. Read it with the full expectation of readerly pleasure.… (more)
LibraryThing member michaelmurphy
Recently re-read this disturbing factional story of unspeakable horror after some thirty-odd years, revisiting the pain of Holcomb, the scene of the tragic, senseless snuffing out of the Clutters. Controversial on its publication due to its blending of fact and fiction, a hybrid composite that had not been done before, Capote's "In Cold Blood" grippingly reconstructs, in all their brutal detail, the 1959 grisly, cold-blooded murders of the Clutter family on their farm in the plains of western Kansas when four shotgun blasts changed the town of Holcomb forever. This fictionalising of real events, complete with imagined dialogue between real-life characters, broke new ground and established Capote as the inventor of True Crime "non-fiction novels".

Capote reconstructs the lead-up to the gruesome murders and the aftermath. In the lead-up, Capote cross-cuts intermittently between descriptions of the routine domestic life of the Clutters in their small farming community near Holcomb and the transient lives of the drifters Smith and Hickok - what's chilling is their humaness in the picture Capote draws - as they drift cross-country towards Holcomb. The aftermath comprehensively covers the search for and apprehension of the killers and their subsequent trial and incarceration on death row.

Capote's case-study is concerned not just with the who of the crime but the why, probing into every facet of the lives of the killers, the background influences that shaped them, taking us into their minds to give us the opportunity to get to know them, exploring the psyche of the criminal mind to discover the psychological motivation that can turn men into monsters. A forerunner of classic true-crime titles such as "Fatal Vision" by Joe McGinnes, "Daddy's Girl" by Clifford Irving and "Blood and Money" by Thomas Thomson, "In Cold Blood" is itself, an American classic and one of the best American books of the 20th Century
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LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
I got this after seeing the film Capote a few years back. I’ve been eyeing it often since, picking it off the shelf and pondering it, but have always chosen something else. I was under the impression that it would be meticulous and somewhat slow-going, and have never quite felt in the mood for documentary fiction.

When I finally decided to read it (ignoring the slight resistance I felt), it only took me a few pages to be completely engrossed. Capote’s account of the brutal killings of a wealthy farmer and his family, the investigation, the killers’ roaming the Midwest after the deed, the trial and aftermath IS meticulous and somewhat slow-going. But more than that it’s haunting, beautifully written and full of sharp observations of human behaviour. Capote carefully paints moods and scenarios, from the impact on the small village after a horrible crime nobody has yet been arrested for, over images of the vast landscape of West Kansas itself to sharp character sketches that, while made with a few strokes, still feel very authentic. And the portraits of the young killers themselves, both frightening enigmas and very very human, will surely stay with me for a long time.

Disturbing, intelligent, crisp and empathic, this was both a true page-turner and food for thought. And, since Capote takes great care not to appear himself in the book anywhere (indeed, he even refers to the person conducting the interviews with the murderers on Death Row as ‘a journalist’), having seen the film Capote becomes something of an added value, an interesting meta level to ponder at will.

Easily one of the best reads of the years for me.
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LibraryThing member danimak
This was one of those books I hated and everyone loved. Right off the bat the narration came off as improbable. Capote describes so many scenes in such detail (reporting gestures, glances, tones of voice -- oftentimes during dialogue for which he was not present) that it is obvious he is filling in a lot of gaps using his imagination. The "true account" thrill of the book thus fails from the first few pages and worse, the author's credibility is compromised.

The second problem I had with this book is that the author goes off on too many tangents, describing the histories of characters that are entirely irrelevant to the central case of the story, giving the book a bloated feel to it. At some points, it feels like the author is stalling, making the reader wait for what he truly wants to know, which is the motives for the murders and how they happened. Yet even this is unsatisfying, as nothing truly unexpected or suprising is discovered in the explanation of how the central events took place.

Yet the way the book is set up, this is what the reader is led believe he will be given: we are first introduced to the murdered family and the murderers on the day leading up to the killings, then taken to the day after the murders, making it seem as if the whole point of the book is to find out why they happened. Or, at least, how the crime is solved. But even this is unsatisfying, as it occurs through no expertise on the part of the police.
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LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
In Cold Blood is a first-of-its-kind true crime book where journalism was written in novel-form. In a small Kansas town in 1959, four members of the Clutter family were brutally slaughtered in their home. The book begins by personifying the members of the Clutter family and laying out the last couple days of their lives. It also brings to life (disturbingly) the two murderers, outlining their histories and motivations. This is a work of genius in real-life characterization. The author clearly had compassion for at least one of the murderers, so much so that he was accused of being "obsessed." I don't find this obsession as shocking as some people, I suppose, because I understand that psychopaths are generally EXTREMELY charming and are able to manipulate people into feeling empathetic towards them. I wonder, though, if Capote knew as much about the diagnostic criteria of psychopaths back then as a good journalist-doing-his-job would have today, would he have portrayed the two men the same way? While reading, I kept saying, "these men are psychopaths, and yet they are portrayed as having (very tiny!) consciences..." If the book were written today, I don't think it would be the same book. Regardless, I think it's a classic that will stay with us forever simply BECAUSE it portrays a world that was perhaps less complex and more innocent than today's.… (more)
LibraryThing member StefanY
I really enjoyed this book. Capote has taken the factual account of a horrible mass murder and turned it into a fascinating story that reads more like a novel. Beyond just giving us the facts, Capote creates a colorful, vivid world with deep, rich characters. Through the telling of the tale, we get to know these people inside and out, and we even begin to feel some compassion for the monsters who committed this heinous crime.

Capote's description of small town Kansas is very accurate and realistic. The emotions and reactions of the populace are presented a format where they are not only a factual interview from the person, but also Capote imparts the emotion which the subject is imparting. We also get a unique perspective of the criminals themselves presented in a very believable manner.

With this book, Capote basically created his own genre; taking the true crime story to another level altogether with beautiful prose and excellent story-telling. It is truly a masterpiece and a fine work of modern literature.
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LibraryThing member kell1732
I can see why this book is considered one to the greatest books in the nonfiction genre. I quite honestly did not understand, before reading this book, how a murder story from a small town in Kansas could get at much attention as this one did, but I figured I should read and see.

The first thing that made me really like this book was just how much research Capote did to write this. It was amazing how much these people, especially the murderers, opened up to him and told him everything. There was no stone un-turned in this book.

I can also see just what the appeal of this case was. The fact that the perpetrators didn't even know the family makes this rare, since the majority of murders are committed by someone the victim knows. It was also fascinating to read into the psychology of the these two men and how they reacted to their crime. There was a lot of insight into what their thought process was during the whole ordeal, and while I didn't sympathize with them necessarily, it actually humanized them a little bit. We get see where they came from, what their childhood was like, etc.

I also feel that Capote did a great job of capturing just what kind of affect this horrible incident had on the town of Holcomb. Everyone who knew the Clutter family and even those who were not closely associated with them were affected in some way. It was also interesting to see just how the suspicion that the killer was among them almost ruined the closeness of the neighbors in this small town. We not only got a look at the lives and thoughts of the men who committed the crime but insight into how this kind of tragedy can cause strife in an entire community.

This was a compelling read and was actually hard to put down sometimes. Even though you know how everything ends, you are still engrossed in the lives of those involved which keeps you reading. It was very well done and I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member adrianburke
Totally riveting and set the style for others to follow.
LibraryThing member enemyanniemae
Incredible writing. This book was as compelling as it was horrendous. The story of the senseless and brutal murders of a family of four in 1959 middle America was well done. Capote paints a canvas of touching beauty and unspeakable horror. I can't say that I enjoyed the book but I had to see it through to the end. From snippets of the last day of the Clutter family to the arrest, conviction and execution of the murderers, I became a witness to it all. I was left with such a sense of unease that I will be forever checking those doors before retiring at night.… (more)
LibraryThing member Katie_H
In a new and innovative approach, Capote writes about the true life brutal murder of the Clutter family at the hands of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock who believed that they had executed the perfect crime. The book was the first of its kind, and remains the masterpiece of the style, in which the author applies the techniques of fiction to weave together a fact-based story. The reader is taken into the cold blooded minds of the killers, from inception of the crime, to the act itself, to the flight from justice, capture, trial, and finally death at the gallows. Most disturbing is that the killers are humanized to such an extent that the reader comes to know and sympathize with them. Capote's writing is amazing, and his descriptions are overflowing with detail. This is one of the best true crime novels ever written, the diamond of the genre, and I'd highly recommend it. It isn't overly gorey, so anyone with an interest in true crime should read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member LARA335
Brilliant. Not exactly a novel - or reportage. Capote read about the bizarre killings of the Clutter family in the Times and decided to go to the farming community to find out more. With the help of Harper Lee he talked to the local residents, the detectives on the case, and then, when found, the killers. There is no obvious authorial point of view. It's as though we are seeing the family, the young men who killed, the community as they are affected as it happens. Well deserved to be on the 1000 books list.

I remember being as absorbed by reading 'Helter Skelter', and the writer was no doubt influenced by Capote, who did it first.
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LibraryThing member riverwillow
This is a fascinating and densely written book and rightly deserves the controversy surrounding it and Capote's relationship with the two murderers. This book has raised many questions for me about the morality of journalism and the death sentence, which I suspect will occupt my mind for many months if not years. The two films based on these events are interesting but this is a must read book.… (more)
LibraryThing member BryanThomasS
I spent the first years of my life through second grade in Garden City, Kansas, the town where the trial and many events of this true story took place. We knew people who had been friends of the victims and it made it all the more powerful for me when I finally read it. Capote's masterpiece is a true life story that reads like a novel. Not to be missed.… (more)
LibraryThing member herschelian
I bought this when I was 18, three years after it's original publication. The book had a profound effect on me, I realised that murders occur for a variety of complex reasons, not just for expediency's sake. Capote took you to Kansas, through his writing you saw and heard the community, the victims, the murderers; it started me thinking about the question of capital punishment which until then I had really had no views on whatsoever. The book has very recently been made into a film, and so will find a new generation of readers, I hope it wakes them up to thinking about crime and punishment, good and evil as it did me.… (more)
LibraryThing member vandev11
Truman Capote’s magnum opus tells the story of the Clutter family murders in rural Kansas as well as the subsequent trial and execution of the accused suspects.

This work can be used most readily to examine writing style and technique, as it contains some rather dense passages that can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives. The book does contain some graphic violence, but the work itself is a stunning example of storytelling at its finest, and students will find this to be a rewarding and fascinating reading experience.… (more)
LibraryThing member BellaFoxx
On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held at close range.

This book was highly recommended to me by friends on my other book sharing site. On of them even has stated, repeatedly, that this is her ‘favorite true crime book of all time’. As you can see from the star rating, I thought it was O.K. nothing special. I’m almost afraid to go back there and say, “You know that great book? I thought it was meh.

We get a brief history of the victims and murderers. Even why the murders were committed. A detailed account of the day leading up to the murders, what the victims and murderers did. Word for work reports of interviews, and letters written, auto-biograpies written by the defendants for a court appointed psychiatrist.

The book seemed to move along as a measured pace, dragged in places and it never really drew me in, maybe it is the author’s style that didn’t attract me. It was informative and factual. I can’t really say I found it interesting.

Not the worst, but definitively not a must read.
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LibraryThing member TheWasp
In the town of Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959, Herb and Bonnie Clutter and two of their children, Nancy and Kenyon, were brutally murdered by
Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock.
This is their story, what preceded that fateful day and what transpired until justice was done.
The book reads like a newspaper or court report, imparting the events with clarity. It is also sensitive. It is written in many voices.
An enthralling read if sometimes disturbing read
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LibraryThing member Yorkshiresoul
I've grabbed a few of the modern 'classics' in order to broaden my reading experience, the first one I picked, Jack Kerouac's On The Road was bloody awful, and so In Cold Blood, purchased at the same time, languished on my shelves for some months before I picked it up.

This is a much better book though, Capote exhaustively interviews everyone involved with the brutal mass murder of a family in rural 50's Kansas and then recreates the events that led to the crime, the crime itself, and how the murders affected the murderers and the community.

Capote tells the crime and its fall out as a story, slowly building up the characters of the doomed family and their almost conscience free killers. He does not dwell on the murders themselves in a glorifying fashion as many true crime writers seem to, but takes you deeply into the day to day lives of all the people involved.

This is a sad and disturbing tale, the two murderers seem so comfortable with their crimes, so blase about what they have done. In researching their backgrounds we might expect to find all the things that we know makes up the psyche of a killer, the poverty, a miserable and abused childhood, poor education and lack of opportunites in life, but whilst one of the boys ticks all the boxes in this respect, the other just seems to be a normal boy who simply chooses to do evil, this is the uncomfortable truth that Capote confronts us with.

Capote's research assisstant for this novel was Harper Lee who had won acclaim acclaim with 'To Kill A Mockingbird', perhaps that should be the next on my classics hit list.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
The crime has become famous - notorious even - not so much because of its bloodthirstiness, but rather because Capote chose to write this book. It is an amazing piece, an early example of the new journalism. Capote's voice is there, but it is subdued compared to some of his other work, and rightly so. The story is the story here - there are few embellishments, little in the way of literary pretension - and the book has remained an incredible journey into hearts of darkness as a result.… (more)
LibraryThing member HighlandLad
The author blurb at the front tells me that In Cold Blood “immediately became the centre of a storm of controversy on its publication.” Now why should that be?

The author claims that “all the material in this book not derived from my own observations is either taken from official records or is the result of interviews with the persons directly concerned, more often than not numerous interviews conducted over a considerable period of time.” Fair enough, though that does not of course make it the ‘true account’ of the subtitle, and Penguin rightly class it as fiction of the crime/mystery variety, rather than non-fiction because the author has reconstructed and arranged the events and personalities and imagined dialogue, in such a way as to make the most effective story-telling, using the conventions of the novel. Taking a true story and working it up as a novel is a perfectly valid approach which has been brilliantly repeated many times, in powerful novels such as Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark (10/10), Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (10/10) or Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (9/10). If your plotting/storytelling gift is weak, as I suspect Truman Capote’s was, but your writing and research skills are strong, then taking a real story and embroidering it into a novel is a perfectly valid approach. Truth, as they say, if often stranger than fiction.

Another potential reason for controversy is the picture of America that emerges from the story, which may well enrage some readers. Although the Clutter family who were murdered by amoral killers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith are portrayed as an almost unbelievably good all-American family living ‘the American dream’, Capote manages to turn that dream into a nightmare – and you get the feeling he does so, not innocently, because that’s the direction the facts of the story takes him, but all too knowingly, because that’s the story he wants to tell. There’s a well-suppressed sarcasm here, a cynicism he keeps well buried, because this is supposed to be a true story. Capote exposes humbug, whether it’s about those all-American folks’ supposed classlessness, their love of justice and fairness, of religion, of capital punishment, just about everything.

For example, look at that love of justice and fairness which everyone openly espouses. Harold Nye, the cop, says to Dick Hickock at the start of his interrogation, “Of course, you’re under no obligation to answer our questions, and anything you say may be used against you in evidence. You’re entitled to a lawyer at all times.” But does he get a lawyer? Not until he had effectively signed his death warrant... and then, what an effective lawyer...

Oh yes, and look at Capote’s demolition of American claims to classlessness:-
“Without exception, Garden Citians deny that the population of the town can be socially graded (‘No sir. Nothing like that here. All equal, regardless of wealth, colour, or creed. Everything as it ought to be in a democracy; that’s us.’)... but of course, class distinctions are as clearly observed, and as clearly observable, as in any other human hive.”
And observe them Capote duly does, clearly, sharply, explicitly, minutely.

Capote’s presumed opposition to the death penalty is quietly promoted, without hysteria or over-statement; in fact, in a very cold-blooded manner, he simply relates what happened.

And perhaps most controversial of all is his depiction of the murderers themselves. These were unquestionably savage, unspeakable, cold-blooded crimes of the very worst type, but Capote depicts the murderers not as the animals that the popular press would show. He reveals them as real people, with hard backgrounds, who went wrong for reasons you can understand, war service, difficult parents, alcoholism in the family... Perhaps that’s the most controversial part of all.

Yes, In Cold Blood is powerful stuff indeed, all the more so for being based on a real story, written after due research, carefully, accurately, fully, analytically... Written, in fact, in cold blood.
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LibraryThing member ReaderBeth
Compelling, slightly macabre read. Read this following the movie (as well as Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and was not disappointed. I found I could hear the sort-of Southern accent in the dialogue and really enjoyed the way the story flowed, despite the subject matter. Beautiful rich language, often small words and phrases were hugely suprising and produced a satisfying feeling that Capote was EXACTLY in context with them. Will seek out an old secondhand copy to dip into in the future. Recommended.… (more)




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