In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s famous “non-fiction novel” is far more famous than the murder it’s about, that of four members of the Clutter family in 1959, in Holcomb, Kansas. I’m fairly sure that this is the most famous True Crime book out there, and this combination of dark and classic reading was what made me want to pick it up. Now maybe it’s because of the year it was published. 1965, but I found this book to be surprisingly non-graphic, even relaxing, though “light” wouldn’t be accurate. That’s a weird assessment, isn’t it? But while it does of course delve into the details of the murder itself, most of the book is focused on the activities of the small town, friends and neighbors of the Clutters, and the two killers after the murders have occurred. This is not a whodunit – We know from the moment we’re introduced to Dick and Perry that these are the dudes everybody is looking for. The real vehicle for suspense then is in how long it will take for these two to get caught, and how will they finally be discovered. These guys hitchhike, laze around in Mexico, and flash back to their childhoods as we drift along with them, all the while wondering where it all went wrong that they turned out to be so very cold. “Cold” is perfect here, because the murders aren’t committed out of any anger or hate. The victims died simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – their own home in the middle of the night – while the robbery of their home was being committed. They would have been witnesses, and the goal in the robbery was to leave none.
Truman Capote spent a huge amount of time doing the research for this book, interviewing the local residents about how the book’s events all played out, accompanied by his good friend Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird). In fact he even spent time speaking with the killers themselves before their eventual execution in 1965, before the book’s publication. Capote’s notes for the book amounted to 8,000 pages, and you have to admire that kind of hard work. A more well-researched and accurate account of these murders simply can’t be imagined, and this could be why the book so outshines its subject. As an introduction to the genre I have to recommend this book,particularly if you’re currently a reader of fiction, as this will be a seamless transition. If it weren’t for the enormous number of facts I suppose it would be fairly easy for the ignorant reader to assume that this was an ordinary novel, for the both the writing style and for the depth that it succeeds in taking us into the characters’ minds. As it creeps teasingly towards the end and the outcomes you know are coming, the suspense is positively juicy. Before I knew it it was 4am and I still wasn’t ready to put it down. This book is in fact a masterpiece, though that must be distinguished separately from books that we may find more dark and shocking. This isn’t something you read just for the shock value. This is quality, and if you appreciate it as such then you’ll probably come out of it very satisfied, as I did. If, on the other hand, you want all the gory details and would prefer to just watch the movie, I warn you that you may be somewhat disappointed. Check out Bea’s review of the 1967 movie adaptation here.