Last year I made a grand plan to reread some of the books I read in high school and college. While I read several books for the second and third time (and in the instances of Perks of Being a Wallflower and Ender’s Game the 8th or 9th) I didn’t manage to read any of the books I read in AP English or my freshman lit course besides A Prayer for Owen Meany and The Great Gatsby. I guess I just hate the thought of missing out on the chance to read something new and wonderful.
In Cold Blood had been on my list of books to revisit but I couldn’t find my copy. I still can’t so I decided to download the audio book from Overdrive.
One of the first true crime novels, In Cold Blood tells the story of the Clutter family murder by two parolees, Dick Hickcock and Perry Smith. Capote went to Kansas to research the story while it was still fresh; if I’m not mistaken he first visited Holcomb before Hickock and Smith were suspects. As an author he does a good job of keeping himself out of the narrative and focuses on the case.
When the Clutter’s were absent from church the following Sunday family friends walked into the house and found the family of 4 murdered. There were no initial suspects and no easily identifiable motive; Herb Clutter notoriously didn’t carry cash and the murders left Mrs. Clutter’s jewelry. The narrative alternates between the perspective of Alvin Dewey, the lead investigator, and of the murderers.
A former cellmate of Dick’s had told him about Mr. Clutter, a wealthy farmer in Holcomb, KS, and lead him to believe he had a safe with about $10,000 in his office. Dick and his friend, Perry, hatched a plan to rob the Clutter’s and leave no witnesses. They were disappointed that the house didn’t have the safe but murdered the family anyway to avoid being caught for breaking & entering. These guys were not master criminals though and after a string of petty crimes as well as several trips cross country in the weeks following the murders the men are caught.
“How much money did you get from the Clutters?’
‘Between forty and fifty dollars.”
Capote’s writing tends to be sympathetic at times towards our murders but overall does little to diminish the horrors of their crimes. I think In Cold Blood is a well deserved classic and classroom staple; there is a reason it is still one of the best selling true crime stories 50 years after its publication.
One thing I noticed that I don’t remember being bothered by as a student is how repetitive Capote is. I credit my previous lack of irritation of this to the spacing of a few chapters a day/ assignment nature of classroom reading.