After reading Breakfast At Tiffany’s and not enjoying it half as much as the film, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and give Truman Capote another shot with In Cold Blood. The synopsis sounded promising, and I was not disappointed!
It is based on the true murders of four members of the Clutter family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. However, it’s not the murders themselves that make this book such a good read. It’s the aftermath; how the town dealt with it, the police investigations and of course, the story of the killers. Whereas in most books, the reader is usually kept guessing about the killer’s identity, In Cold Blood has them as main characters from the first few pages. We travel with Perry Smith and Dick Hickock through Mexico and the States as they try to find work and escape the terrible crime they have left behind. Although thinking they have committed the perfect crime and that there is nothing to trace them to the quiet farmhouse in Holcomb, they make one of their biggest mistakes by heading back to Kansas, which is where things start to catch up with them.
The book is split into four parts, beginning with ‘The Last to See Them Alive’, which introduces the four doomed characters. Herb Clutter, who seems to be a perfect husband and father, his depressive wife, Bonnie and their two happy children Nancy and Kenyon. We have an outline of their lives and read about their final day alive, which is a very normal day for the Clutter family, that is until they are each tied up and shot in the head.
The second and third parts follow the killers and the detectives. Capote was in the thick of it the whole time, he was there every step of the way through the investigations, and became close friends with one of the main detectives assigned to the case, Alvin Dewey. This is why, when you read this book, you truly believe everything Capote is writing. You can feel the frustration of the detectives when the murderers slip through their fingers and can see how it effects their lives. You can imagine the people of Holcomb locking their doors for the first time and becoming wary of neighbours they have always trusted.
What is most interesting however, is the story of the murderers. As you learn more about them, you find it hard to dislike them, especially Perry Smith. Throughout the book you get snippets of his difficult childhood and you begin to understand why this man is so messed up. When you read his confession, it is hard not to get a chill down your spine, the lack of emotion he shows is unnerving. However, when you see quotes from his notebook, you can’t help feeling sorry for him.
After watching the 2005 film ‘Capote’, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, I realised how the author managed to have such an insight into the lives of the characters he was writing about. The film tells of the close relationship developed between Capote and Perry Smith from their many interviews. Smith even gave Capote his notebooks and journals. When Capote snipped out an article in the newspaper about murder in a small town, little did he realise where it would lead. Not just to a great book, but also to an experience he would never forget. When getting to know the murderer, he learnt that he wasn’t just a killer, but a person, with real memories and thoughts and this really comes across in the book.
The final part of the book, ‘The Corner’, is the perfect ending for this story. However, I’m not so sure it is the perfect ending for the real life story, and it is disturbing, knowing that the events in the book have actually happened, it’s almost like watching history unravel before your eyes, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Overall, the book is not at all sentimental. The bodies are described as if for an investigation and the actual murder was confessed rather mechanically from the killer’s own mouth. The response from the town is horror and shock, but we don’t hear much about the remaining two daughters who had married and left Holcomb. This is what makes this book great, it’s not a conventional murder mystery full of violent crime or soppy relatives trying to get through the ordeal. And yet it still shocking and after closing the book, I realised it would not easily be forgotten.
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