It was difficult for me to read this book without my impressions on the movie Capote coloring my reaction. I was so fascinated by the movie and Capote’s obsession with the crime and the killers that I had hoped some of that would leak into his writing, but I saw only one or two places where it could be argued Capote might have written himself into the book. Neither here nor there as this book was just as intriguing as the movie–only in a different way.
In Cold Blood is an in depth look at the horrific slaying of the Clutters, a prosperous and well-loved family, in the small Kansas town of Holcomb in November 1959. Four members of the family, the mother and father and their two teenage children, were tied up and shot with a shotgun after what appeared to be a failed robbery (as Mr. Clutter did not keep any money at the house). The family was found the next day by close friends.
Most of the novel moves back and forth between the two killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, as they travel around the nation after the killing and the slow-moving investigation for a crime that seemed to have no motive and absolutely no evidence. I am guessing that when Truman Capote visited Smith and Hickock several times over their years in prison he was able to get very detailed accounts of their lives because most of the book contains narratives from the killers themselves–how they planned the robbery/murder, what they did after the crime was committed, and how they saw the crime in relation to their own belief systems and who they were.
I don’t read a lot of crime fiction or even true crime books, but this book was absolutely captivating–once I got into the meat of the story I couldn’t put the book down. First and foremost In Cold Blood is a heartbreaking account of how a family with so much promise was senselessly and brutally murdered for what basically amounted to forty bucks. Second, in the book we get an intimate glimpse at the lives of the killers and their motives. In the end, though, I still don’t see any justification for what they did–why or how someone could commit such a heinous crime.
From what I understand, Capote revolutionized the concept of the nonfiction novel. I was talking to my college roommate, who received her masters in criminal justice and who read this book a few years ago, and she mentioned that the book was interesting but only really contained the cold hard facts. I guess that is where I see differently–while the book did contain the grisly facts of what happened, it was also written as a literary work. Capote takes special care in his writing to bring the characters alive but to also create a fitting ambiance for the story. While a lot of the book is contained in quotes from interviews and other documents, Capote’s writing aptly captures the setting and attitudes surrounding the story. While this book isn’t going to be for everyone (and no–it isn’t too gory, considering), I think that the writing and what Capote is seeking to do with this work can be appreciated by many.