I have been a huge true crime fan since I first read Helter Skelter at 16 years old. I listen to the My Favorite Murder Podcast religiously. But somehow in over 20 years, I haven’t managed to read this book, which is a classic in the True Crime genre. I finally picked it up in a birthday book buying frenzy in May and read it shortly after. Objectively, I recognize Capote’s contribution to literature and that it is the first of what’s often referred to as the “non-fiction novel.” However I did not like this book nearly as much as I thought I would.
The story itself is compelling enough. On the night of November 15th 1959, Herbert Clutter, a prosperous Kansas farmer was murdered in his home along with three members of his family: His wife Bonnie and his teenage children Nancy and Kenyon. The family was extremely well liked and had almost no enemies. The town was shaken and on edge after the killings. The perpetrators, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith had never met the Clutters before the night they died. A former cellmate of Hickock’s had spoken of Mr. Clutters prosperity and mentioned a safe containing as much as $10,000 in his office. After six weeks, the murders were apprehended, tried and eventually executed. It’s the writing that I sometimes found to be troublesome. Capote quotes uses huge blocks of text from the killers to do some of the writing in the last half of the book. While their past is certainly compelling, Capote almost seems too sympathetic at times to these men who committed such heartless acts. I’m glad I read the book, but I can’t see re-reading it.