This book is often defined as the original nonfiction novel on account of the true story, expansive research and outstanding narration on part of Truman Capote. The story is about the brutal murders of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer, his wife and two children in the town of Holcomb in western Kansas. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested and sentenced to death later.
The perpetrators of the crime were never a secret in the book, the reader knows all along that Dick Hickock and Perry Smith are the murderers. What is kept under wraps is the manner in which the executions were carried out. The story is pretty simple, but the real beauty of the novel is in its treatment.
How the book was conceived:
The New York Times On November 16, 1959 published an account of the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, a small town in western Kansas. This prompted Truman Capote to travel to Holcomb to investigate the murders. The case became such an obsession for him that he remained in Holcomb for six years until the case was finally closed. He interviewed the people of Holcomb, the investigator from Kansas Beurau of Investigation Al Dewey, and poured over police investigation reports and articles. After Dick and Perry were caught and sentenced, he even interviewed their handlers in prison. The result of all this painstaking work was what was known as the original nonfiction novel - In True Blood.
What strikes you as a reader is the superbly vivid and lively description of Holcomb that Capote gives you, considering the fact that none of this is the authors imagination as in a work of fiction. The accounts of every resident of the town, folksy tidbits from the lives of the Clutter family, accounts of prisoners, and every development in the case confirms to reality.
The novel also was amazing in capturing the mind of the criminal, what drives them to the extreme step of taking a life. Capote devotes extensive time defining the characters of Dick and Perry, as well as the human side of them. He describes Perry as being the more sensitive and guilt-ridden of the two on account of the murders. Unlike Dick, his turning reprobate was more a victim of circumstances and upbringing. He shared a complex relation with his family. He describes the murders as follows:
'Just remember: I only knew the Clutters maybe an hour. If I'd really known them, I guess I'd feel different. I don't think I could live with myself. But the way it was, it was like picking targets in a shooting gallery.'
In his own words, he defined himself as follows in a diary he kept:
'My acquaintances are many, my friends are few; those who really know me fewer still.'
Overall, Truman Capote is a master of describing different emotions: He presents some beautiful images of rural Kansas, they can be identified with by anyone who has grown up in small towns; heartbreak suffered by Dick and Perry's families; and aboveall the horror of the murders.
- Truman Capote's assistant for this book was Harper Lee, the Pulitzer prize winning author of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'
- The novel bought some renown to the Clutter family home and the town of Holcomb. People would visit the town just to experience the Holcomb that Capote had so vividly defined. Here is a link to some pictures I found from the time of the investigation to the present. In Cold Blood: A Legacy, in Photos