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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 Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.
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A true story that really draws you in like a novel.
This was my first time reading Capote as well as my introduction to original narrative journalism, and I was blown away. It's easy to see why this book was a sensation in the '60s. The content is amazing—Capote clearly spent immense amounts of time researching the case and conducting interviews—as is the writing itself: vivid, detailed, carefully crafted...at once intimate and removed. The organization of the book is smart, too: first painting a picture of the principals (the Clutter family, the town of Holcomb, Perry and Hickock), recounting the crime, and describing its effects on the survivors; then covering the progress of the investigation and trial. This much I would have expected. What surprised and impressed was the third section, which included research on sociopathology and psychopathology, legal precedents therefor, and other killers like Perry and Hickock. This contextual research lifted me out of the Clutter case and helped me think about the crime in a more holistic way. This is really the only kind of denouement that can resolve the horror and suspense and confusion stirred up by this story. In Cold Blood is not quite fiction and not quite nonfiction (Capote called it a "nonfiction novel"), and it's important to note that there's controversy over whether the work is completely true, as Capote claimed. There's also debate over how much ethical responsibility Capote carried as a journalist and whether he exploited Hickock and Perry by not doing more to save them from execution. It's a lot to think about. In short, I'd recommend In Cold Blood to anyone who likes true crime thrillers and powerful, dense writing. The Modern Library edition has an introduction by Bob Colacello that sketches Capote's career, the advent of narrative journalism, and the work's reception in the '60s—helpful background for the uninitiated such as myself.
The attention to detail and obvious effort in researching the background of this story is very apparent within the first few pages. Capote has a very dry/factual way of writing here, and given the subject material, gives a very chilling mood to the entire book. I enjoyed how the viewpoints of the two killers was shown without much obvious bias. It somehow humanizes them, and while you never really can sympathize with or forgive them for what they did, you can almost understand how a human being in their shoes could end up doing what they did. By the end of the book you don't see these people as monsters, but simply flawed humans like you or me. My only gripes is the book did tend to drag at points, and was rather slow to start, but I feel like that was simply due to the nature of this book. The attention to detail was required throughout the book, not simply where it was convenient. By the time I had gotten to the second half it was a page turner that I had difficulty putting down.