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In Cold Blood

A book by Truman Capote

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A Masterpiece

  • Feb 5, 2008
Truman Capote, with major help from Nell Harper Lee, produced groundbreaking work with 1965's In Cold Blood. These days there are probably few readers or film fans not already acquainted with the basic details of the crime upon which Capote based the book: Herb Clutter, his wife and two youngest children, both teenagers, were shot to death in November 1959 in their isolated Holcomb, Kansas, farmhouse. Two petty criminals who had recently been paroled by the Kansas prison system were arrested, convicted of the murders and, almost six years after the killings, finally faced the hangman.

By today's standards, sadly enough, this crime does not seem to have been an extremely brutal or sensational one. But 1959 America was not yet numb to this kind of thing and the crime was reported in detail across the country, even grabbing the attention of novelist and short story writer, Truman Capote in New York City. Capote recognized the potential to turn this crime into a book and, with childhood friend Harper Lee in tow, went to Kansas to do his research. But this time, instead of a novel, Capote may have invented something new: a true crime account that reads more like a novel than it does as nonfiction.

In Cold Blood does a masterful job of describing the murders but, as in any good novel, Capote allows the suspense to build for a long time before he reveals the details of those four horrible deaths. In the meantime he has turned the four victims into real people by providing the details of their everyday lives, their hopes and dreams and what each of them meant to the community in which they lived. When Capote's story finally reaches the final minutes of their lives, the reader is left with a sense of the huge waste that happened at the hands of the two rather shallow sociopaths who destroyed them.

Capote performs the same feat with the two killers, turning them into real people, hard as it is to feel any sympathy for either of them. Perry Smith and Dick Hickock were losers in every sense of the word, two callous sociopaths who felt absolutely no sympathy for anyone they criminally victimized, even the four people they murdered. Although it is never mentioned by Capote in his book, he developed a strong relationship with the two from almost the moment they were returned to Kansas to face their accusers. He was especially taken with Perry Smith, the American Indian runt of the pair, and took advantage of that relationship to gain access to many of Smith's personal photos, journals, letters and drawings. He quotes entire letters and passages from the writings of both Smith and Hickock throughout the book, in fact, but only described the photos and drawings that he obtained from Smith.

Capote's In Cold Blood style has been much copied but has seldom been matched. His melding of a fiction style with a true crime account is so complete that it is very easy to forget the book is not, in fact, a novel. This is the book for which Truman Capote will be forever remembered and, considering that nothing quite like it had ever really been accomplished before, it is truly a masterpiece.

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More In Cold Blood reviews
review by . May 11, 2013
A clearly framed horrifying account of cold-blooded murder.
The murders that are graphically depicted in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood -which is now universally recognized more for its writing than anything else- are nauseating, grisly and malicious; these words do not aptly describe the frightful overtone, essence and nub of the book - that violence is not purely restricted to inner cities and to metropolises. The murders that occurred on 15 November 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas is the exclamation point to that alarming fact. Violent murders can happen in …
review by . October 27, 2010
Dateline 1959, Holcomb, Kansas: Herb Clutter, a wealthy, well-respected God-fearing Methodist farmer, his wife and two children are brutally murdered in what modern police parlance would term a home invasion. The Clutters, dispatched without any apparent motive, made particularly poignant victims. Mr Clutter, a hard-working, successful farmer, allowed no drinking on his farm. Generous to a fault and yet prudent with his money to an extreme, he paid for everything by cheque. His attractive daughter, …
review by . October 15, 2010
Capote's prose is fantastic. His images are precise and vivid, and due to this his ability to create an encapsulating scene that truly puts the reader in the moment, in this Kansas city--a quiet, small-town paradise--as it was turned inside out after a quadruple murder. Capote delves deep into the psyche of the killers, while juxtaposing that to the solitary and yet dynamically-portrayed lives of the victims.
Quick Tip by . October 25, 2010
Read this when it first came out and have never forgotten it. Working on this book changed Capote's life, and not for the better.
Quick Tip by . October 25, 2010
First of the so-called non-fiction novel. The book is the biography of a crime, the victims, and particularly the murderers. What makes the book so good is that it is told with a novelist's ear for telling instead of an historian's eye to fact. It is no small feat to describe gruesome crime scene photos in a way that makes it compelling instead of just nauseating.
Quick Tip by . October 27, 2010
An extraordinary compelling work, seminal and pioneering in its nature, that plumbs the depths of a motiveless multiple murder in 1950s Kansas and brings the reaction of the community and a shocked nation to life. The first "novelized" true crime non-fiction.
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Fabulous true crime novel
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
the things men do!
review by . May 15, 2010
If you read the first paragraph of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" it may seem at first to just be a descriptive opening for the book until you read it again. Those opening lines can almost be scanned as poetry because Capote has breathed his life, his unique talent into them and as you read on, you'll see all the words of this true crime story transcend ordinary writing. It is the difference between a great writer and a mediocre one, that special life-breath, that rare life- force that is the hallmark …
review by . May 23, 2009
...if it only were one! I would feel so much better liking it. It is a brilliant piece of borderline writing, mixing 'fiction' and journalism.   Unfortunately it also seems to have done something highly immoral, if the story as told by the movie 'Capote' is correct: it seems that Capote deceived the killers, who are his subject of observation, into seeing him as 'on their side', ie supporting their defense. He befriended them, including unclear levels of personal attraction,and made one of …
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Sam Sattler ()
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Oil company professional of almost 40 years experience who has worked in oil-producing countries around the world. I love books, baseball and bluegrass music and hope to dedicate myself to those hobbies … more
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About this book


"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.
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ISBN-10: 0679745580
ISBN-13: 978-0679745587
Author: Truman Capote
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Nonfiction
Publisher: Vintage
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