Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages
Signet, 1965
(my cover not pictured)
reread, very highly recommended

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Bl
ood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

My Thoughts:

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is a classic and introduced a new genre, the true crime novel. Originally, the New Yorker sent Capote and his research assistant, Nell Harper Lee, to Holcomb to investigate the murders for an article. After the article was completed, they remained and continued investigating and interviewed the killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock after they were caught and sentenced. The subject matter is brutal, but the writing is exquisite.

In this reread, I was curious if In Cold Blood would stand the test of time. It does, beautifully, and this is due to Capote's writing. He sets the stage; his descriptions capture what life was like in the late 50's. He approaches his subject matter as a reporter, remains unbiased, captures the facts, and sets the scene. He does not glamorize the killers. He carefully describes all the people and places involved and develops them as one would develop a scene or character in a work of fiction.
Very highly recommended


The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them. opening

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. pg 15

At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them--four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again--those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers. pg. 15

Like Mr. Clutter, the young man breakfasting in a cafe called the Little Jewel never drank coffee. He preferred root beer. Three aspirin, cold root beer, and a chain of Pall Mall cigarettes - that was his notion of a proper "chow down." pg. 24

...his own face enthralled him. Each angle of it induced a different impression. It was a changeling's face, and mirror-guided experiments had taught him how to ring the changes, how to look now ominous, now impish, now soulful; a tilt of the head, a twist of the lips, and the corrupt gypsy became the gentle romantic. pg. 26

"Why do I keep smelling smoke? Honestly, I think I'm losing my mind..." pg. 33

"One day she told the class, 'Nancy Clutter is always in a hurry, but she always has time. And that's one definition of a lady.' " pg. 36

A bookmark lay between its pages, a stiff piece of watered silk upon which an admonition had been embroidered: "Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." pg. 42


The World is Mine for the Reading said...

i am reading this now....very captivating from the first page :-) nice review

Lori L said...

Thank you, Jules. In Cold Blood is a classic for a reason.