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In Cold Blood Paperback – February 1, 1994
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"Dovetail" by Karen McQuestion
From the author of Hello Love comes a spellbinding new novel of enduring love, family secrets, and mysterious death. | Learn more
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"A masterpiece . . . a spellbinding work." —Life
"A remarkable, tensely exciting, superbly written 'true account.' " —The New York Times
"The best documentary account of an American crime ever written. . . . The book chills the blood and exercises the intelligence . . . harrowing." —The New York Review of Books
- Lexile measure : 1040L
- Item Weight : 9.3 ounces
- Paperback : 343 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0679745580
- ISBN-13 : 978-0679745587
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 0.77 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Vintage (February 1, 1994)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Note: Capote's research assistant out in rural Kansas was none other than (Nelle) Harper Lee, who wrote TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
Capote shifts perspective from murderers to the murdered which allows him to convert this real life event to a story plotline. As the reader, we see the murder occur from both perspectives which almost allows us to be separate from the event since it leads to a weaker emotional connection to the story when reading. However, when the reader takes a moment to recall that this actually occurred, it opens a box of emotions. Capote wrote the plot so effectively, we automatically assume it is a work of fiction and forget the harsh realities.
Capote’s well researched insight on the story lends the perspectives of both the Clutter family members and the murders, Perry and Richard, to communicate a clear plotline. He does well to tie up loose ends that may have resulted from the limited availability of knowledge about the murders-which may be the reason why this story seems so fictional. Blurred omniscience lets Capote lead the reader through the rollercoaster of both emotions and action, each page becoming another layer to the overall suspense. The book does justice not only to the victims but the murders as well. Instead of painting Perry and Richard as complete antagonists, capable of only crime , Capote add layers to their personality by explaining the background of each man. The heart wrenching pasts of the duo humanized them, creating an additional element of tension during the brutal slaying of the Clutter family.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote had me captured from the first page. From what I have read about this book, it seems that this may be more based on a true story than complete true crime novel, but the writing was so enthralling and the case so interesting that I would still consider this a must read for fellow true crime readers. The way Capote delved into the psychological aspects of the crime, the investigation, and the criminals themselves was my favorite aspect of the novel. I was particularly interested in the perspectives of psychology in the criminal justice system at that time. A lot of which I was very unfamiliar with. This is not a book I will soon forget and I give it 4.5 stars and highly recommend it.
Top reviews from other countries
An upstanding, hard-working family from Holcomb, a small community in the wheat-plains of western Kansas, were brutally murdered by person or persons unknown, in November 1959. The Clutter family, Herb, church-going, teetotal dairy cattle-farmer, his rather delicate but equally upstanding wife Bonnie, and his two children, 16 year old Nancy, vivacious, popular, responsible, admired, and her bookish 15 year old brother Kenton were all shot at point-blank range, having previously been tied up. Herb Clutter also had his throat cut before being shot.
Inevitably, investigation first turned to possible personal and local motive, but there was no evidence at all to suggest this. The community was a tight-knit, respectable, co-operative one, and all the Clutters were warmly regarded by their colleagues, peers, friends, family and neighbours
“The hitherto peaceful congregation of neighbours and old friends had suddenly to endure the unique experience of distrusting each other; understandably, they believed that the murderer was amongst themselves”
The conclusion was that this might have been a burglary which went wrong. The idea of this definitely ruled out local involvement as everyone knew that Clutter did not keep money or valuables in the house, but banked it
The crime seemed to point towards something of a growing trend – murder without any real personal motive. There have always been such, in times past, but, for obvious reasons, they were more likely to take place in crowded cities, where perpetrators could quickly vanish amongst the hordes. Such crimes in isolated areas, carried out by perpetrators completely unknown, where victim and murderer had no direct connection with each other, must have been comparatively rare before owning cars became common, so that going on the run and being able to hide anywhere, became easily possible.
The perpetrators of this crime, after an intense investigation, were found to be a couple of small time crooks, who had met whilst serving time, far away from the scene of the crime. The successful solving of the crime, not to mention the capture of the pair, also depended on chance as much as skill, and the existence of mass-media (radio, TV) to highlight awareness of the crime and the search. The motive was indeed a robbery gone wrong, with the murderers, neither of whom had ever met Clutter, unaware that this rich man did not have a safe in his house (as they had assumed he would)
Truman Capote’s account of the case, originally serialised in The New Yorker, was rather a literary, ground-breaking one. The book was extensively researched from documents and interviews, but Capote structured this like a converging story, rather than a linear account. The structure, the language and the shaping are that of story, not journalistic reportage. Indeed, levelled against the book was criticism (particularly locally) that some dialogue had been invented, and small human touches and potent images had been invented.
Interestingly, his researcher on the book was his friend, and later, admired author, in her own right, Harper Lee. She is one of the two people Capote dedicates the book to.
The crime was indeed a gory one, but Capote withholds the gory details until near the end of the book, Instead, he paints a low-key, un-histrionic , unheroic, un-villainous picture of all the individuals associated with the case – this includes the victims, the murderers and all connected in the investigation, bringing to justice, and the community in which these events happened.
The author avoids operatic, overblown rhetoric. The reader (well, this one) has the sense of an author listening for a way to tell a shocking story in a simple, measured way, allowing the events themselves to be revealed in a way which suggests they have objective existence, and are not driven by authorial agenda. Nonetheless, the choices he made do of course shape the reader’s own perceptions. This is not a mere recounting of facts, but the reader is not being punched by the writer’s persona. Nonetheless, it is obvious that Capote did feel a kind of fascination with one of the perpetrators, whose status as half Cherokee, half-Irish, child of a broken marriage, whose mother was an alcoholic, and who spent part of his childhood in a brutal care home, marked his card, somewhat from the start. A classic outsider who FELT like an outsider to himself. Capote, himself an outsider, clearly felt some kind of – if not sympathy, than an identification of ‘outsiderness’
Unlike a more modern trend in some ‘true crime’ writing, Capote avoids a ramping up of the gory details of the undoubtedly gory crime. He is not trying to titillate or be gratuitous, Instead, there is a cool restraint. There is of course no ‘excuse’ for the crime, but there is a recognition that the fact that these types of crime occur shows ‘something’ about human nature. Because the writer does not go the route of ‘aberrant, demonic, despicable, bestial monsters’ the reader is uncomfortably forced to acknowledge this too is the possibility of human choice, human behaviour.
Capote approaches the subject from three angles, the victims, the townspeople and the murderers, with the narrative rotating among them. The Clutters, as portrayed here, were fine people, upstanding members of their community and their church, good neighbours and well respected. The children, especially Nancy, seem almost too good to be true, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much the old adage of never speaking ill of the dead had influenced the picture Capote paints. So even at this early stage of the book, I had begun to wonder how much reliance could be placed on Capote’s account of the people involved.
This feeling grew as the book progressed and Capote recounted as if they were facts things that he could only have learned from his interviews. While this may be fair enough with regards to the innocent people involved (though even then, oral testimony, especially when given not under oath, is notoriously unreliable), taking the words of Hickock and Smith at their own evaluation and drawing inferences as to their characters from this shaky evidence left me in a kind of limbo as to whether the book should be considered “true crime” or a fictionalised novel. I believe it gets categorised as a “non-fiction novel” - a description that seems deeply contradictory and problematic to me, designed to allow inaccuracies to pass unchallenged.
To be clear, I found it extremely readable and, viewing it as fiction, the characterisation of the murderers is wholly credible. Capote seeks to understand them by going back through their early experiences for clues as to why they turned out as they did. Smith in particular had a terrible childhood, with an alcoholic mother who pretty much abandoned him and a father who was at best an intermittent presence and a disruptive one at that. Hickock is more difficult to pigeon-hole – his family seemed both respectable and caring. Capote ventures into psychiatry for answers, using the reports that were drawn up for the men by their defence team. He gives a relatively nuanced picture, neither seeking to whitewash them nor to wholly condemn.
His portrayal of the impact of this horrific crime on the small community is equally convincing. In a place where people didn’t feel the need to lock their doors at night, the intrusion of this horror seemed incredible, and Capote shows how for the first time neighbour began to suspect and fear neighbour. The arrest and conviction of the murderers couldn’t wholly put the genie back in the bottle, as Capote describes it – the townspeople’s feelings of security would never be the same.
An interesting omission is the perspective of the Clutters’ two older daughters, neither of whom lived at home. While Capote gives us some facts about them, we don’t get to know them at all nor to learn how they fared in the future. I could only assume that they refused to be interviewed for the book.
Some of the later scenes felt too contrived to be true, and I later learned on looking at wikipedia that some of the people involved had indeed denied their truth. For example, the scene where the wife of Perry’s jailer holds his hand while he sobs after being sentenced to death felt like something written for a Cagney film (or perhaps copied from one). And the super convenient final scene, played out between the chief investigator and one of the friends of young Nancy, now all grown up, provides a heartwarming conclusion of the restoration of order and the rebirth of all that is good and hopeful in life, and I didn’t believe a single word of it. According to wikipedia, the investigator later denied that it ever happened.
So I have very mixed feelings about the book overall. It’s not got the essential truth to be true crime, and yet it’s presented too factually to really be considered a novel. And yet, it is beautifully written and intensely readable, and while it may not have factual truth, it feels as if, with regards to the personalities of the murderers, it may have achieved some kind of emotional truth – certainly emotional credibility, at any rate. I quite understand why it has a reputation as a classic of the genre – I’m just not sure what genre it’s a classic of. Perhaps it should be viewed as a one-off, uncategorisable. And as such, I’m happy to recommend it.
Bo-o-oring! The writing is genuinely excellent. It's novel-like - if you like your novels painfully slow and uneventful.
Lie: there's one event, and it's the one you already knew about, a murder, which takes about 100 pages to reach. Yes, the victims are humanised and fleshed out enough that you feel bad for them when the time comes. But then the crucial event occurs - off the page, so you don't know what happened! Thereby cutting out the only action that really takes place, in order to give you a reason to keep on with this terminally dreary book about straw-chewing tertiary characters feeling irrationally unsafe in their dull little town. Oh, how they're affected! Please, tell me more about these unimportant non-characters so that I don't have to read about the actual events.
I don't mean to say I want a grisly depiction of a real-life murder. I don't want to belittle the trauma felt by a community. I'm saying that this book, whilst extremely good at being evocative of the time and place, whilst making every person in the story, including the villains, feel very real and 'known' (rather like a Stephen King novel, i.e. with interminable detail), has almost nothing to say. What's it about? It's a newspaper article stretched out to what feels like 500 pages. It feels important but only because it happened. Only we can't really be sure that X worried about a fruit pie or Y had a roll of mints in his pocket. Capote apparently went above and beyond to get all the details for this story (I gather there was some controversy, which is probably why this book is so rated), but it feels like there's a layer of made-up-ness over the top of these facts, which jars a little.
Not as good as a novel, nor as good as a straight non-fictional account of events. But, line by line, it's very well written, and powerfully evocative, even if the 'plot' is very underwhelming. I don't regret reading it, but I find it hard to recommend.
David 'No, I couldn't have written it better' Brookes
Author of 'Cycles of Udaipur'
The first section of the book gives an amazing snapshot in time. It's November 1959 and we are in small town Kansas, focusing in on a family called the Clutters. Their world is far from perfect but it is pretty good. We also follow the killers on their way with a plan to murder. From the start we know who will be killed, who is going to do it and that it is going to happen soon - all giving the narrative a great darkness. There are then three more sections which divide roughly into the investigation, court case and aftermath.
I picked the book up to read a few years but couldn't get into it so put it down and was never inspired to try again, until now. This time I was hooked immediately.
The books is full of detail that makes the characters easy to visualise and give the surroundings great atmosphere. Everyone is just getting along with their lives but all have different opinions of normal based on their individual experiences of life so far. Looking at the murderers so carefully is very clever as the reader gets to know them and starts to empathise at the same time as learning more about the impact of their actions. Perry and Dick are complicated men who have been treated badly by life. We then move on to trying to understand the torture of the Bureau agent who is investigating the crime.
The book was published just 7 years after the murders and it is clear why it was so controversial in that it made the "monsters" into human beings with sad stories and excuses (valid or not depending on your view).
The book is well rounded and draws the story to a great conclusion which being back some of those involved to show the reader how life moves on.
Fantastic that it says so much about the era and I would recommend it to anyone interested in crime.
It's 1959 and Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie and two of their children, teenagers Kenyon and Nancy, are enjoying a comfortable life in Kansas. Herb is well respected in the tight-knit, rural Holcomb community: a fair employer to his farmhands, a regular churchgoer and staunch temperance man. Then Dick Hickock hears from his cellmate that Herb has a big safe in the farmhouse reputedly stuffed with cash. After he is released from Lansing prison Dick shares those details with his buddy, Perry Smith. They plan to drive there, rob the Clutters and silence any witnesses. All for of the Clutters are murdered and the pair make off with all the cash in the place: a pathetic haul of forty dollars.
Truman Capote was already was the author of Breakfast in Tiffanys and the internationally acclaimed Other Voices, Other Rooms. This gentle soul had also been the inspiration for Harper Lee's childhood friend Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird. Yet after hearing of the murders he set off for Kansas to interview members of the community, the law enforcement officers and, after their conviction, the murderers and their legal teams.
The book begins with an in-depth portrait of the Clutters and reflects upon the shock felt by the Holcomb community as the authorities investigate the murders:
"Strangers, ignorant of the disaster, were startled by windows ablaze...fully clothed people, even entire families, who had sat the whole night wide-awake, watchful, listening."
It moves on through the investigation, the trial, the appeals and the executions. Perhaps unusually for the time, it explores the mental state of both perpetrators in the light of their childhood traumas. After the conviction, a large section of the latter part of the book is devoted to the perpetrator's legal challenges and incarceration whilst no more is heard of the victims or their grieving community and family.
It is clear that in attempting to hear from both sides, Capote is scrupulously fair. As a non-practising solicitor, I was very impressed by its portrayal of the investigation, legal proceedings and incarceration. However, after Capote has exhausted what the community and the surviving Clutters were willing to say publicly about the victims, he has no way to present the voices of the bereaved. I felt that very quickly Herb, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon, and the grief of the surviving family members Eveanna and Beverly, disappeared from the narrative, and that was something I was painfully aware of when I was reading it.