I had heard of In Cold Blood because of its resonance in popular culture, as it is considered to be a true crime masterpiece, if not THE best true crime book ever written. My favorite podcast “Literary Disco” did an episode on some Capote stories, which jogged my memory that I had never tackled this classic, and I decided to make this one a goal for the year. I “read” this via audiobook, and I highly recommend both that format, and the book.
In 1959 a well known and much beloved family, the Clutter’s, were murdered in their rural farmhouse. This novel tells the story of the family, the town of Holcomb, Kansas, and the story of the murder from beginning to end. It is some of the best writing I have ever come across: picturesque and suspenseful, and Capote is really able to make the town and its many inhabitants come alive.
What is almost as fascinating as the novel itself is the story of how it came to be. Capote, a well-known member of New York society, heard about the murders in the news and decided he wanted to write about it, so he traveled to Kansas with his childhood friend, fellow writer Harper Lee. There were no suspects when he started the story, just a fractured town trying to pick up the pieces. When his novel came out in 1965, it captivated the nation.
Though Capote obviously was close to the key players in the story, in order to have the detail found throughout, he went to great lengths to remain an impartial observer, and let the facts speak for themselves and what we are left with is a heartbreaking story and a snapshot of 1960s America and a blueprint for the makings of violent and horrific crime.
It’s an emotional read, but a good one, and if you have ever enjoyed any of the countless series on mainstream television that tell the story of crime and violence, than you owe it to yourself to learn the origins of basically the entire genre, and what everyone else telling similar stories wishes they could be.