In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

Cover ImageFinished 1-26-10, rating 4/5, true crime literature, pub. 1965

In 1959 in a small Kansas town the Clutters still living in Holcomb were brutally murdered and the murderers got away without a trace.  The community was in a panic.  Was it one of their own who had murdered this upstanding family and, if so, why?  The last one to see the family alive was the boyfriend of teenager Nancy and he took a lie detector test to clear him.  As the months went by the town was still rattled by the unsolved murders.  At the same time we were taken on a journey with the killers, Hickock and Smith, as their preparations and escape became clear, it was still uncertain what the motive might have been.

This true crime literature reads just like a novel and I love Capote’s style.  I didn’t know much about this story before I read it, just some sort of vague memory of a family getting murdered, and the outcome of the book is told right upfront.  But, that doesn’t take away from the story.  It took me back to the 50’s in Kansas and a simpler way of life, where 12 year olds drove cars on old country roads and when murders happen every neighbor close enough to get there traipsed through the crime scene.  The alternating storylines and different time frames kept the story moving along at a good pace.  The sense of the setting was so real.  I felt the remoteness of the Kansas farm and the loneliness of the road as Hickock and Smith tried to find the a place worth stopping for.

I liked it a lot and loved Capote’s writing, but I didn’t love the book.  By jumping from character to character I wasn’t really attached to any one of them, so I felt a bit detached from the whole thing.  And the end dragged on a bit for me because the motive was unsatisfying and because of the focus on the killers.  Capote almost seemed to have sympathy for them and while I didn’t mind it, I didn’t really understand it. 

I admit that I prefer The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer to this one (different story, but considered true crime literature).  Yes it’s three times as long, but I got more understanding out of it and was ultimately more satisfied.  Of course, true crime isn’t my first or even fifth choice for reading pleasure, so I’m not the target audience.

I’m glad I read it because it is a part of pop culture and I and I do plan on watching the film.

This is from my personal library and cheerfully chosen for me by Kathy, Marie, JoAnn, Molly, Sandee, Piroska, and Wendy.  Here’s what they had to say…

“Capote invented a new genre with this one.”  Kathy

“A classic true-crime.”  Piroska

“An all time classic.”  Molly

“A true classic.”  JoAnn

“A true classic!  Read it!”  Marie

25 thoughts on “In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

  1. Melody says:

    I’ve heard lots of good things about this book, but just haven’t got around to reading it yet! It totally makes a different reading experience when you knew they are true crime literature instead of fiction, isn’t it?

  2. lakesidemusing says:

    I’m so glad you gave this a try! True crime is far from my usual reading fare too, but this one really captured my imagination… and I enjoyed Capote’s writing style. Should really watch the movie one of these days.
    I haven’t read The Executioner’s Song either, but will check it out next time the mood for a book like this strikes.

  3. bermudaonion says:

    It’s been years since I read this, but I remember being mortified that I was enjoying something so horrible. You must watch the movie Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman now that you’ve read the book.

    • stacybuckeye says:

      I saw it a few years ago, but didn’t really appreciate it because I didn’t know the story. I’ll have to give it another try.

  4. Bumbles says:

    I think you nailed it with his style and how he is able to put you right there in the middle of where you might not really want to be. It gave me chills.

    And that feeling of detachment that you got from bouncing around so much? I think that was intentional. The tale is one of detachment and his method helped to elevate that theme.

    I was disturbed by his sympathetic leanings myself – but I understood how that may have happened. Capote, unlike the killers, had the capacity for empathy and after spending so much time with them and researching their lives – found it hard to detach himself from the tiny speck of goodness underneath that never had a chance to thrive – of their own doing or otherwise. But I am glad that they were caught so they couldn’t destroy more than themselves again.

    It made me sad – such a waste of lives.

    • stacybuckeye says:

      I do agree that the jumping around was intentional and it helped the story read like a thriller.
      And yes, I get why Capote would have started to feel empathy after spending so much time on the story. I guess for me I just didn’t understand it. Call me hard hearted 😉
      And the motive for the killings was such a heartbreaker. So senseless.

  5. Michael Ellis says:

    Im reading the book right now. It was slow to start but I admit it is better as it goes along. In true Capote style, it is definitely worth a read for all of you True Crime fans.

  6. Marie says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it but I do understand your caveats. It’s a really sad story and he does show a degree of empathy for the killers that can be hard to take.

    • stacybuckeye says:

      That’s true, but I really did love Executioner’s Song, so it can be done 🙂
      This one was disturbing and I know the visual pictures in my mind will be with me for quite awhile.

  7. Margot says:

    You did an excellent evaluation of this book. I read it years ago when I was on a read-everything-by-Capote roll. This was so sad and horrid, just like you said. I don’t think I want to watch the movie. The book made me sad for weeks.

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