It is said that In Cold Blood is the first and finest of the genre of true crime novels, and if it was first, I don’t know, but it was certainly fine. It told the story of the horrific murder of the Clutter family in 1959 by two ex-cons, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. One night, the two entered the Clutter house and shot Herb, his wife Bonnie and his two children, Nancy and Kenyon, with a view to robbing them. The perpetrators left the bloody scene with just under $50.00, a radio and a pair of binoculars.
Unlike most fictional crime novels, there wasn’t an enormous amount of suspense leading up to the event, and at no time did you not know who it was who had committed the crime. Even the motive was established by half-way through the book. Because of this, it should have been a difficult read, and Capote did take great pains to include long descriptions, testimony and psychological assessments, which made for some dense writing at times. And yet, the book was incredibly compelling. The author had spent years meticulously researching and interviewing in order to achieve the thoroughness of In Cold Blood and that most definitely shows. His writing style drives you forward, if for nothing else but to try and understand.
I found that Capote was extremely impartial in his writing. His presence was never once felt. He didn’t pass judgement, nor did he deliberately arouse sympathy or hatred, which made it very unusual to read. Despite the horror of the crime, Capote’s research had exposed both killers to be flawed and yet altogether human individuals. You couldn’t hate them. Indeed, as several of the characters who came across the pair when they were incarcerated said, the worst you could feel was pity. Of course, being a true crime novel, it was very satisfying hunting around on the internet for photographs of the key players. Yet the photos did not change the impression that the author had given.
This is a masterful work, exploring the combined incomprehensibility and familiarity of the human mind.
Date Finished: 27 May 2008
Challenges: 1/8 of category 2: American Authors for the 888 Challenge