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In Cold Blood Paperback – February 1, 1994
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"Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there." If all Truman Capote did was invent a new genre--journalism written with the language and structure of literature--this "nonfiction novel" about the brutal slaying of the Clutter family by two would-be robbers would be remembered as a trail-blazing experiment that has influenced countless writers. But Capote achieved more than that. He wrote a true masterpiece of creative nonfiction. The images of this tale continue to resonate in our minds: 16-year-old Nancy Clutter teaching a friend how to bake a cherry pie, Dick Hickock's black '49 Chevrolet sedan, Perry Smith's Gibson guitar and his dreams of gold in a tropical paradise--the blood on the walls and the final "thud-snap" of the rope-broken necks.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In the wake of the award-winning film Capote, interest in the author's 1965 true crime masterpiece has spiked. Capote's spellbinding narrative plumbs the psychological and emotional depths of a senseless quadruple murder in America's heartland. In the audio version, narrator Brick keeps up with the master storyteller every step of the way. In fact, Brick's surefooted performance is nothing short of stunning. He settles comfortably into every character on this huge stage—male and female, lawman and murderer, teen and spinster—and moves fluidly between them, generating the feel of a full-cast production. He assigns varying degrees of drawl to the citizens of Finney County, Kans., where the crimes take place, and supplements with an arsenal of tension-building cadences, hard and soft tones, regional and foreign accents, and subtle inflections, even embedding a quiver of grief in the voice of one character. This facile audio actor delivers an award-worthy performance, well-suited for a tale of such power that moves not only around the country but around the territory of the human psyche and heart. Available as a Vintage paperback. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
But re-reading it, it WAS a new way to write non-fiction, that changed literature forever. It was also so frightening at the time, because things like that just didn't happen in the 1950's, but now it's the stuff of everyday news.
What Capote couldn't explore stands out, like an oozing sore, is the effects that child molestation and a severe head injury had on the killers. Very little was known about it then, and since that time, the research has increased exponentially, but is still largely ignored as warning signs for psychopathology and violent behavior. I've done most of my graduate work for an APRN and have worked with extremely disturbed and also TBI/ABI patients, the dissociative states that both killers describe are classic signs..
Often people think homosexuality is linked to predatory behavior--this is simply FALSE. Predatory behavior is a manifestation of anger and lack of impulse control on a big scale. Homosexuality is simply gender attraction--with no link to predatory behavior.
The book is as chilling and compelling as it first was, if not more so.