267 of 274 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2006
On November 15, 1959, in Holcomb, Kansas, the four members of the Clutter family were dragged from their beds in the early hours of the morning and tied up. All four were shot in the head with a shotgun at close range. None survived. The killers left few clues, and there was no apparent motive for the slayings.
On assignment from the New Yorker, author Truman Capote, along with his assistant Nell Harper Lee, traveled to Holcomb in late 1959 to investigate the killings for an article. The article was completed, but still Capote remained in Holcomb. He conducted interviews with every person in town; he pored over police records and statements. Once the killers, drifters Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, were caught and sentenced, he even interviewed them on Death Row. The Clutter killings became an obsession for him; and that obsession turned into a book that would become a literary milestone, that would singlehandedly introduce a new genre to the literary world: the nonfiction novel. He called his piece of creative nonfiction IN COLD BLOOD, and it so consumed him that it would be the last thing he'd ever write.
I didn't expect this book to move me so deeply. In most true crime books that are written today (at least in my experience), the evidence is presented straightforwardly, unemotionally; the facts are dry and textbook-like. Such is not the case with IN COLD BLOOD. Capote's prose is mesmerizing. His descriptions of Holcomb and its inhabitants are vivid and lively. His research is impeccable, presented flawlessly, lushly, sweeping the reader away on waves of vibrant language.
And his imagery is heartbreaking: Nancy Clutter teaching a neighbor to make a cherry pie, Dick Hickock deliberately hitting a dog on the highway, the Clutters' old mare standing alone in an overgrown pasture. With startling empathy, Capote transports his readers to the Holcomb, Kansas, of late 1959: We feel the tension and sorrow clouding the town; we watch as the police nearly crumble under the weight of their investigation; we're with Dick and Perry as they flee across the United States to Mexico, leaving a trail of bounced checks in their wake, and we're with them in their cells on Death Row. We're right there the whole time, from the day before the Clutters are killed to the day after their murderers are executed. And Capote is unflinching; he keeps us there, even when the honesty of his prose makes us uncomfortable, even when we can't imagine reading on but somehow can't seem to stop.
And this is the genius of IN COLD BLOOD: It is a violent, unflinching account, sorrowful beyond belief (and made even more so because it's true); but, in the hands of a master like Capote, it's really hard to stop reading about this unfortunate family and their motiveless, pathetic murderers. This book made me sad, it made me shiver; but I'm glad I read it.
374 of 400 people found the following review helpful
** PRODUCT UPDATE ** In early 2013 the Modern Library (a division of Random House) reissued four Capote works: a new PORTRAITS AND OBSERVATIONS, a combined OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, the collected SHORT STORIES and this one -- IN COLD BLOOD. Dust jackets are in harmonizing colors and common typography (see product photos); the books themselves are hardbound, in classic ML beige. A good price, too. Of course, IN COLD BLOOD is still available in paperback, too, as it has been ever since the mid-1960s.
The magnificence of "In Cold Blood" doesn't lie in the subject matter but in its treatment. There are--unfortunately--more depraved criminals and more elaborate police investigations detailed in a great many "true crime" accounts. But I doubt that any of them is as well written as "In Cold Blood."
I haul my copy out every 2-3 years just to remind myself how wonderful the rhythms and nuances of the American language can be at the hands of a master. I am totally drawn into the lives of the prosperous and completely unsuspecting Clutter family of western Kansas and the two drifters, Perry and Dick, who by themselves didn't amount to much but together proved lethal that fall night in 1959.
A trivia note: Capote's research assistant on this book was Nell Harper) Lee, who shortly after would become famous as the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird."
I'd recommend Gerald Clarke's excellent biography "Capote" to learn about this one-of-a-kind book, its creation, reception, and how it affected the author's life.
PRODUCT UPDATE (2012): The hardcover edition of IN COLD BLOOD with a photograph of the Clutter house on the cover is a quality edition issued by the Folio Society of Great Britain. I wish I could elaborate in a separate review but as you can see, I've already filed one review and Amazon will not let me file a separate one, despite the fact that this book has 31 (!) different formats. I will say that the Folio edition has a very intelligent introduction, and that it is the only version of IN COLD BLOOD I know of that has illustrations. They consist of black-and-white photographs of the Clutter family, the killers, the lawmen on the case, Garden City and the home village of Holcomb during that period. I own the volume and like all Folio society books, it is very well manufactured but not cheap.
75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2006
I have meant to read this book for some time. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that seeing the Capote film is what finally induced me to read it, but I suppose that must be true. I had seen the film the previous weekend, bought this book during the following week, and just this past weekend, devoured it in all of two days.
Capote's masterpiece tells the story of the senseless, brutal killing of a rural Kansas family in 1959. It is beautifully written from start to finish -- in an understated way. If you come into this experience, as I did, conscious of the narcissism of the author, you might be surprised at the writing style. It is very humble, no Joycean or Nabokovian literary showing off. The story is paramount; the author does an amazing job of staying invisible, and respecting that story.
Respect is the feeling that is conveyed throughout the book. The telling is very respectful of the Clutter family; you learn of what remarkable people they were, even as they met their ends. The author is also fundamentally respectful of the people of the town, and of the local law enforcement. The book is not without its implied questioning of the judicial process, but again, I greatly appreciated the empathy and respect that pervaded the book.
This fundamental respect for human dignity even, in a more disturbing way, pervades even the discussion of the lives of the killers. The author candidly relates the biographies of these two men. On one level, this conveys an understanding of how they came to be what they were, but on a deeper level, it's all still a mystery. Left unanswered, still, is what really causes a man to be a killer. There is a great sense of tragedy throughout the relating of their formative lives -- perhaps not a respect for who they eventually were, but a respect for who they *could* have been.
Extremely unsettling is the sheer randomness of it all. The chain of events that causes the Clutter family to be killed is so random, so out-of-the-blue. Capote conveys how thin is the line between everything all seeming well and orderly in the world, and disaster striking out of nowhere.
Also coming through very clearly in this book is a cultural moment in time. You read it, feeling that this rural Kansas society is a vanished world. It's a stoic, God-fearing community, but the urban Capote betrays little condescension toward it. Quite the opposite; he seems duly impressed that the only reaction from the crowd to the killers' transference back to the town is one of silence -- no attempted violence, no shouted insults. The restraint and dignity of the townspeople amid this tragedy seems foreign to modern eyes. I found myself liking these people very much, despite my own preference for urban living.
But nothing undoes the basic feeling of tragedy that pervades the book. The author sifts through an incredible amount of detail about the crime; information that could only have been gleaned with a tremendous amount of cooperation from the killers themselves. There are details here that we could never have known about unless both killers had related them in their own separate interviews: details both of the crime itself, and of their activities, and further crimes and near-crimes, when on the lam.
The final portrait is of two worlds colliding -- a dysfunctional, violent world amid the undercurrents of society, rising up to strike the normal, orderly world of the Clutter family. It leaves the reader feeling as though nothing can be truly safe in our world, as long as the mysteries behind this story remain unresolved.
50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
I received Truman Capote's In Cold Blood as a gift, and this book is a true gem in the true crime genre.
Herb Clutter was a wealthy rancher and prominent citizen of Holcomb, Kansas. In 1959, Clutter, his wife, and his two teenaged children were brutally murdered in their home. The killers are two paroled criminals, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, and they think that they have executed the perfect crime. Their involvement is no surprise as Capote introduces them at the beginning of the book. Capote chronicles the search for the killers by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (the KBI).
Capote writes In Cold Blood in a folksy, easy going style. He goes from one character to another, seamlessly switching from the third person to the first, and then back again. His down-home descriptions mirror Kansas in a simpler time. Capote writes about the jury "Not everyone was attentive; one juror, as though poisoned by the numerous spring-fever yawns weighing in the air, sat with drugged eyes and jaws so utterly ajar bees could have buzzed in and out." Capote also shows surprising empathy for the murderers, and Hickock and Smith accumulate a few fans.
Although In Cold Blood is 41 years old, reading it now couldn't be more timely. First, the film, Capote, was recently released. In Cold Blood became his most successful book. Also, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields was just published. Lee and Capote were neighbors, friends and collaborators. Lee did much of the research for In Cold Blood, and Capote rewarded her by dedicating this book to her (along with Jack Dunphy). I'm sorry it took so long for me to read this classic and I now have to follow up In Cold Blood with these two works.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' is enjoying a resurgence of popularity thanks to the Oscar-winning film depicting the author's life and work during the writing of this phenomenal piece. At one point in the film, the character Capote makes the statement that when he thinks about how good this book will be, he can hardly breathe. Perhaps it is because it is part of our history now, I don't consider the book to be that good, but it was a work fairly close to groundbreaking in its impact - it was a new genre, the narrative telling of a non-fiction event as if it were a fictional novel.
The narrative centres upon the murder of a Kansas family by two men, Perry Smith and Dick Hicock, who are in many ways far from typical killers, much less cold blooded killers. The family, the Clutters of Holcombe, Kansas, are far from typical victims, nor is this the kind of place such a murder would be expected. Capote does a remarkable job at an even-handed analysis and narrative treatment of all the characters, from the family itself to the townspeople and investigators, as well as the murderers themselves. Perhaps it is because he found an area of identification?
This is a psychological thriller of a sort - at least it would be, were it not a true life tale. Getting into the minds of the criminals and the investigators was no easy task for Capote, but what comes forth on the page is very crisp and insightful reporting, without the kinds of embellishments one might expect from a figure such as Capote when dealing with middle-America folk.
The question of why for the killing is still never fully resolved, despite Capote's attempt to set out all the story and psychological detail. Perhaps this is as strange as the interest Capote took in the subject in the first place, as well as the effect it had on him, and those around him, ultimately - while Capote himself never again finished a major project after this, that is also true of his assistant, Nell Harper Lee, whose book 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (done about the same time as 'In Cold Blood') was also her last major writing.
A worthwhile book in many ways.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2006
This book hasn't really dated since it was written. With the exception of a few references to the years, it could be set in a present-day world. Capote takes us on a through the lives of the Clutter family before they were brutally murdered one Saturday night. He intertwines the lives of their killers and the men who found them and the result is a gripping, nail-biting tale of a brutal crime and the people involved. From time to time you have to remind yourself of the fact that all this really happened...
The audio presentation of "In Cold Blood" is particularly memorable as the narrator, Scott Brick, is one of the best readers I have ever heard. He brings Capote's book to life, complete with voices and accents. Coupled with excellent writing, Brick keeps us tense and excited throughout the book. I spent many evenings not wanting to get out of my car at home as I didn't want the book to end.
If you're new to audio books, this is an excellent one to start with.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 1999
I am almost embarrassed to admit that I couldn't put this book down. Embarrassed because in essence it is a hard core voyeuristic experience. You will in fact end up attending a movie awash in unabashed bathos and violence...and it will be very hard to avert your eyes. While Capote had to be aware of this effect...I dare anyone to get the picture of Nancy Clutter out of their mind... he ends up having bigger fish to fry. The psychological constructs of the killers are remarkably fresh for a book written in the mid-sixties. The issues of the pernicious effects of child abuse (one of the killers, Perry Smith was abused) were not to be thrust into the public's consciousness for another 20 years, yet Capote has a very modern feeling for the features of the abused persona. Equally prescient was Capote's portrait of major depression as suffered by the soon-to-be-murdered Mrs. Clutter. The picture is scarily accurate for a third person account of a disease that was still thought to a purely psychological problem back in those days. It is SO accurate one has to wonder if Capote was in fact recounting symptoms he in fact had felt at one time or another ...anywhichway, still an eye-opener for something written in the sixties. I's also hard to leave this book without having to confront some very basic questions regardng good, evil and the purpose-of-life. If you haven't read this book, do..it is the book least likely to be put down during a long plane trip.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2003
Mr. Capote did us a great service in probing every facet of the tragic murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. But for his careful research and lucid prose, the courage of the Clutters, and the savagery of their murder, made all the more tragic by the quality of the family's character, might well have gone unrecognized. Although our era scarcely needs another shocking crime about which to read, In Cold Blood is worth re-visiting. At one level, Capote's book reminds us just how much has changed in a relatively short span of time. It is almost impossible in today's world to imagine reporters waiting anxiously in Holcomb for the return by car of the accused killers; now, even cities of modest size would have dispatched any number of helicopters to hover over the vehicles in transit and the footage would be delivered to our living rooms, and we would find ourselves addicted to the sound of the copters and the chatter of reporters. At another level, the book shows how little has changed. The murder of the Clutters is a modern story, a sad precursor to our own violent times. Capote knew that Holcomb, Kansas was a tale of innocence lost after the passing of the Clutter family. Now we know it was not just Holcomb's loss.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2005
So many books to read and so little time to do so means that I won't usually read a book for a second time unless I feel the book has something special to offer that draws me back to it. 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 .
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2006
Whenever I think back on my first reading of this book, my memory seems to splinter. As a crime reporter, I remember it as an exquisitely written account of a nasty killing. As a writer and reader, I recall the story line as though I'd watched it on a movie screen. That's the power of Capote's visual style and smooth narrative voice. Like tens of thousands of others, I try to mimic his precisioned style when writing in-depth stories about true crime. Like tens of thousands of others, I can't quite match it. Capote stands alone as the genius of this genre.