Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Shelved: Non-fiction (classic, true crime)
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #6
Buy: The Book Depository
More: Goodreads

I’m not sure how or when I first heard about In Cold Blood – or Breakfast at Tiffany’s for that matter – but I feel like I’ve been aware of Truman Capote’s books for quite a while, but not what they were about. I attended a seminar last year on Beautiful Books and The Folio Society talked a little bit about their edition. I learned that it was the first non-fiction novel and this had me intrigued, so I spontaneously bought a Penguin Classics copy during a trip to Daunt Books earlier this year.

In Cold Blood is the incredible account of the brutal 1959 murder of Herbert Clutter, his wife Bonnie and his two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon. Young Perry Smith and Dick Hickock murdered the family in the Clutter family home in Holcomb, Kansas.

It was quick to see why In Cold Blood is hailed as a masterpiece of American literature; Truman Capote goes into an impressive amount of detail. We learn about the history of the Clutter family, as well as Perry and Dick, the murder itself, the aftermath – the facts – as well as the human element, such as neighbours’ fears that the murderer was among them and how Nancy Clutter met her boyfriend – in a way you would not find in a newspaper article or report. By the time you come to the part where the murdered is committed, you already know the Clutter family – and their murderers – quite well. It took 7 years for Truman Capote to write the book, which was published after the two men were executed. So what I really wanted to know was: What sort of person could kill an entire family? I’m not sure whether I expected to understand Perry and Dick’s motivation for murder, or whether I was merely curious, but suffice to say, once I had finished the book, I still was none the wiser: the Clutter family were murdered for a petty $40-50.

Yet Perry Smith and Dick Hickock are portrayed as two fairly normal men (for the most part!) throughout the book, which is what is most unnerving and why I think In Cold Blood had such an impact. I noticed that Perry came cross as the ‘nicer’ of the two, a man who enjoys books and art, and most remorseful (‘There’s got to be something wrong with us. To do what we did.‘), especially when compared to Dick, who came across as extremely wicked and reprehensible – he would enjoy running over a stray dog on the road. I discovered after finishing the book that Truman Capote, while conducting interviews, eventually befriended Perry and strangely enough, I can imagine how. It’s easy to forget that you are reading about a true crime because the case is so vividly, and humanly, portrayed.

In Cold Blood is a fascinating, compelling and accomplished book – you will not have read anything like it.

Published: 2000, originally 1966
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Pages: 336

5 thoughts on “Book Review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  1. Reading your review has just made reading In Cold Blood come flooding back to me. It was such a horrible tragedy, and I found reading it in novel form to be very affecting, as it felt like a normal novel but you knew all along that these events actually happened. I think I read a library copy but must read this book again soon – thank you for the review!

    • I can imagine, especially in town so small and where everybody knows each other. I live in London and so I hear about murders every day, but if it happened to close to my house, I imagine it’d feel very different.

  2. I loved this book and it was from a genre I don’t usually read. But thanks to Captote, I may try a few other “true crime” books. Great review!

  3. […] In Cold Blood by Truman Capote This has been on one of my wishlists for ages. The true crime/journalistic form really intrigues me and although I’m not really sure what to expect, from what I’ve heard it’s as intense and gripping as any fiction. I remember being suitably creeped out by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote interviewing one of the murderers in the film, so I guess this is as much about Capote’s view and his writing as it is the grisly subject. […]

  4. Sheree Strange

    It’s amazing how truly timeless this book is – well over half a century later, we are still reading it, picking it apart, overlaying it with our own theories and insights. I know it’s cliche, but I can honestly say I think it’s the best crime book I’ve ever read. Capote was truly masterful. Thank you for sharing your review!

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