Thursday, October 23, 2014

REVIEW: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


Original Publication Year: 1965
Genre(s): Non-fiction(ish?), True Crime
Series: NA
Format: Audio (CDs from Library)
Narrated by: Scott Brick

Yep, it’s time to talk about this one.  My feelings about this book are partially influenced by the fact that I had to put it aside briefly.  My listening to it coincided with a lengthy stay, on my own, in the middle of nowhere.  Considering the subject matter of this non-fiction book, which is the senseless murder of a farm family in the middle of nowhere Kansas, it interfered with my calm and enjoyment of my solitude.  So be aware, it is a book that can spook you out.

I should also warn of spoilers in the following discussion/review.  I knew nothing of the crime described in the book and I think approaching it in ignorance was a good way to experience it.  However I can’t adequately speak about the book without revealing some details of the crime so if you’d like to approach the book completely ignorantly, skip the review. 

My initial impressions of the book were how odd its style was.  It oftentimes reads more like fiction than non-fiction and the tone at the start and frequently throughout the book seemed light-hearted.  Minute details are described and/or imagined of the victims on their last day, the interactions and conversations they had, their position in society and even how they perceived themselves and felt about their lives.  Much of it must be research-based speculation on Capote’s part.  His hybrid writing style was wholly unique in my reading experience. 

The first quarter of the book focuses on the Clutter family and the small community of Holcomb, KS of which they are members.  It discusses the discovery of their bodies and the initial stages of the seemingly motiveless crime – nothing was stolen and the family was well liked in the community.  The recounting is interrupted by some brief visits to two recently released prisoners who have reunited in Kansas City, over 400 miles from Holcomb.  At first these interludes are puzzling – who are these men and what do they have to do with the Clutters.  It will not be long however before the reader’s acquaintance with these men becomes all too intimate.

Capote chooses to structure things by first giving the barest sketch of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, who seem to have no connection to the Clutter family at all,  revealing only that they have committed these murders but not why or how. He then begins again and takes the reader through every detail of the investigation, the murderer’s eventual capture, trial and execution.  Capote delves deeply into the character of the two men, particularly Perry which he seems to feel an affinity with, despite the fact that Perry was admittedly the trigger man.  They are an incredibly disturbing pair.  Their motive for the murder was robbery but when it turns that there was in fact nothing to steal, they seemed to have almost tripped into murder.  It was, in fact, a senseless crime.

By the end of the book the reader not only knows every detail of the case but has been given an intimate portrait of all those involved.  Everything is told in this story-like style that seems to teeter between fiction and non-fiction.  Capote definitely spins out the dramatic portions of the story just as any mystery or crime fiction writer would.  I doubt it is possible to finish the book having felt nothing.
I don’t know enough about the history of narrative or True Crime fiction but the book has a feel of being revolutionary, combining sensationalist journalism, with hard reporting and a little bit of imagination.  It felt like a very unique beast to me.

Final Verdict:  If you like true crime, I think this is must read.  I found it interesting and disturbing in equal measure, uniquely written and spectacularly well researched.  4 out 5 Stars - ✯✯✯✯

This book is on my 100 Books Project List.  I'm doing well so far in 2014! 

 Also part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge fulfilling the True Crime category.

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