Tuesday 8 June 2010

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Pages - 336

Challenges - Non Fiction Five and Support Your Library Challenge.

Republished by Penguin in 2000

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there'. Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with hard blue skies and desert clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat , and the the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveller reaches them.

For some reason, I have been fascinated by this book since I first heard about it. I don't know why, especially as I avoid all books with fictional murders in, let alone real ones. I think it was because Truman Capote wrote it, that I became so attracted to it.

In this book, Capote reconstructs the cold bloodied murders of a Kansas farmer and his family in 1959. Capote carried out an extensive study of the deaths within this family, as well as studying the two killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock in detail.

Within this book, Capote breathes life into this violent event. Right from the beginning, I felt very strongly towards the farmer and his family. I was prepared to stop reading the book, as I had to grown fond of them, and really didn't want to find out how they were murdered.

The family were murdered purely because of hearsay. A conversation with another criminal had Hickock believing that the family had a safe in the house with a lot of money in. It turns out, there was no money, but that didn't stop the men killing the family one by one.

I can't say I enjoyed this book as the subject matter really was quite upsetting and I found myself feeling rather depressed, especially as the killers had no real motive for murdering the whole family. However, the writing is detailed and full of empathy towards the family and I felt that Capote handled such a sensitive event very well. You almost feel that Truman Capote is actually witnessing all the events that happened. He includes conversations and detailed accounts, allowing you to believe that he witnessed every part of the event. It is almost hard to believe that the book is actually a non fiction one, as the events read like fiction.

I felt that Capote portrayed the killers in an unbiased way. He tried to show that they did have feelings and were caring in some ways; he didn't write them off completely. However, I imagine that writing about people this way, is easier if you have no connection to the people who were brutally murdered. The book was released six years after the murders and I doubt that people close to the family were able to read this book without feeling anger and hatred for these two men.

There were parts within the book, that I felt may have been page fillers. I didn't feel that every person associated with the family and the killers needed to have a complete biography included about them. I found myself skipping over pages about people who had no real involvement at all,except that they were distantly related.

This book is really one of those books you should read, rather than may want to read.

Now I know other people have read this book, but my Google reader doesn't want to play nicely and I couldn't find any links to other reviews. So if you have reviewed this book, then please add a link in the comments and I will add your review on the end.

Other reviews of this book

Things Mean A Lot


  1. "However, I imagine that writing about people this way, is easier if you have no connection to the people who were brutally murdered."

    I think this is an excellent point. He did a great job of showing that the murders were committed by human beings and not monsters. I think sometimes people refuse to acknowledge this because it's actually scarier than dehumanising those who commit horrible and senseless acts of violent. On the other hand, I completely understand feeling angry if you're directly involved.

    Here's my review: http://thingsmeanalot.blogspot.com/2008/06/in-cold-blood-by-truman-capote.html

  2. Nymeth - I would be interested to read how the family and friends reacted to this book when it came out.

  3. I read this back in pre-blogging days. You're right - enjoyment doesn't exactly describe the experience, but what book!!

  4. I agree completely with your review. I'm glad I read it and I suppose it's one of the best true crimes turned into fiction books but it was unpleasant at times and it did leave me feeling cold.

  5. I have to admit, I think this book is the reason Truman Capote scares me. I haven't read it and probably never will, but I need to get past it so I can read others by Capote...

  6. JoAnn - It is impossible to say that you enjoyed such a horrible real story.

    Mrs B. - that is exactly how it made me feel too.

    Amanda - I would try Breakfast at Tiffanys. It couldn't be more different than this one. I am glad I read it, but I wouldn't want to read In Cold Blood again.

  7. It's my understanding that this book actually changed how "true crime novels" were written. You really do need to see the movie now.

  8. Gah I so want to read this!! It sounds so good...and you bring a good point up to Ana...I really would like to know how the family reacted to this book! The only thing I've read by him is his "A Christmas Memory" book and it was so amazing. Loved it!

  9. I have not read this book, but the movie Capote portrays the writing of In Cold Blood. It's an excellent film!


  10. I don't know why I haven't gotten to this one yet. I saw the movie Capote and was fascinated by it and a couple of years ago I read a fictional account of Harper Lee & Truman Capote and thought that was quite good too so what is holding me back?! Thank you for the great review and reminder to move this book up on the stacks!

  11. Wow, this one sounds intense, your review does make me want to read it.

  12. I remember reading this in college and being less than impressed. :( Maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe true crime just isn't my thing, but I was just too depressed and bored through most of the thing. The crime itself is so awful, isn't it? *sigh*

  13. Oh yes, this one was so chilling! I did read this one, but actually it was a while ago so it may have been pre-blog days?

    Great review Viv

  14. I read this several years ago and I remember that it really bothered me. Have you seen any of the movie adaptations?

  15. Truman Capote is one of my favorite authors because of his short stories, so I've been meaning to read this book. Hopefully I will sooner than latter. If you have not read it, I highly recommend A Christmas Memory (short story)!

  16. I've read quite a few reviews about it and really wanted to read it. I ordered and received the book recently, so I really hope to read it soon once I settled down at my new place.

  17. Ooh, I recently watched Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time and have been wanting to read a lot of Truman Capote's books to get a good feel of him. I'll definitely be including this one now. Thanks for the review, Viv. :)



  18. Hi, Vivienne! I just wrote a blog on Capote's novel that focuses on his treatment of homoeroticism. It might add something to your understanding of the murderer's motives! I even referenced this blog. Check it out at literatimom.blogspot.com.


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