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In Cold Blood (1965)

by Truman Capote

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
19,989403142 (4.14)2 / 777
National Bestseller  On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.  As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.… (more)
  1. 80
    Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi (artturnerjr)
  2. 31
    The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer (VisibleGhost)
  3. 20
    Operación Masacre by Rodolfo Walsh (chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: 'Operation Massacre' by Rodolfo Walsh predates 'In Cold Blood' and is regarded as the work originating modern 'true crime'. In this case, the reportage covers the 1956 police execution of a group of men in Buenos Aires during the 'Dirty War'.
  4. 20
    The Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo (lilisin)
  5. 10
    Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields (edwinbcn)
  6. 10
    Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America by J. Anthony Lukas (FFortuna)
  7. 11
    So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell (Jesse_wiedinmyer)
  8. 00
    The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  9. 11
    Fame and Obscurity by Gay Talese (Ronoc)
  10. 11
    Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Dark Places was undoubtedly influenced by In Cold Blood, but brings an interesting form of storytelling to superficially similar plot lines.
  11. 11
    The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo José Cela (caflores)
    caflores: Dos historias sobre violencia provocada por el ambiente, y dos narraciones crudas y frías.
  12. 01
    Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (Othemts)
  13. 01
    The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima (GYKM)
    GYKM: In 1956, Yukio Mishima not only conducted background research into the crime that he would base his psychological novel on but he also interviewed the arsonist. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion is a melding of fiction, fact, and autobiography.
  14. 01
    Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers (bnbookgirl)
  15. 08
    I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (Voracious_Reader)
    Voracious_Reader: Not a true crime story. It is part of the New Journalism body of work.
1960s (2)
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Showing 1-5 of 371 (next | show all)
Capote deserved his reputation. ( )
  KittyCunningham | Apr 26, 2021 |
"I didn't want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat." (pg. 237)

There's been some disquiet recently about the enduring public appetite for 'true crime' as entertainment, with Netflix – among others – pushing themselves into increasingly suspect commissions in order to meet the demand. But, in truth, this is nothing new. There has always been controversy surrounding the genre, a dilemma over whether the horrific suffering of real people should be packaged as, broadly speaking, 'entertainment'. This is evident even in one of the earliest – and finest – examples of the genre: Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.

It's a brilliant book, no doubt about it. Originally serialized in The New Yorker while the killers were still on death row, it is a stellar piece of narrative journalism and one which pioneered a new, commercially-successful recipe for 'true crime'. There's never any real doubt about who the killers are, no grand mystery or plot twist; instead, the winning formula involves the writer – a technically-excellent writer – gradually revealing the details of the murders, the motivations of the killers, and the investigation over the course of his narrative. It grips. Tightly. And it's thrilling; not only in the assured way Capote unfolds the crimes but in the way that, I imagine, the lions mauling Christians was thrilling to the audience in the Colosseum. There's an edge – which should make anyone feel slightly queasy – about knowing this wasn't a story, that this was real.

I purposely avoided googling the crime until after I had finished In Cold Blood – no skipping ahead and, importantly, no photographs, either of the criminals or their victims. There was only what Truman Capote could conjure for me with his words – and, by God, he can. But I have to say, once I did finish the book and got to googling, the spell was somewhat broken. I felt a bit of shame at having enjoyed the book after seeing what the Clutter family really looked like; ordinary people who, through no will of their own, had undergone a brutal ordeal and had, let's be honest, suffered the further indignity of being reduced to performing for the reader. I'm not resolved about these feelings – and maybe I'm just a hypocrite – but there's always that shadow lurking about a piece of 'true crime', something that makes it seem shabby and inappropriate, for all that it is vivid and intoxicating.

And the googling also brought forward two other spell-breakers: the photographs of the criminals and the written criticisms of Capote's inaccuracies in the story. It makes sense, sometimes, that Capote would embellish or invent in order to move the story along, unethical as this may sometimes appear. But the googled photographs of the two criminals cut right through one of Capote's successes in In Cold Blood: sympathy (or at least reluctant empathy) with the murderers. The book is fascinated with its two killers, particularly the 'gentle', 'sensitive' Perry Smith, but the photographs of these warped individuals (Dick Hickock being the other) brought me back down to earth. It's one thing to understand a killer's motivations, his journey and his past, but it's quite another to be taken in. Capote appears, at times, taken in, and his enthusiasm and his writing ability helps ensure the reader is taken in too. But in the cold light of day, separated from Capote's deceptively simple prose, those photographs remind us that these men coldly and brutally murdered an entire family, who were innocent and terrified and pleading for their lives. The reader wrestles with how the crime appals as much as it enthrals.

This is not to say that Capote is dishonest in his approach. The discomfort, the "sorrow and profound fatigue" that we share with the investigators when the criminals recount the details of their crime (pg. 239), are part of the deal with the devil we make when we seek entertainment in 'true crime'. Capote himself is even-handed (though not exactly neutral), and we find ourselves sharing the view of the criminals that one detective's wife offers: she is "reminded of a childhood incident – of a bobcat she'd once seen caught in a trap, and of how, though she'd wanted to release it, the cat's eyes, radiant with pain and hatred, had drained her of pity and filled her with terror" (pg. 157). The author's hand might well be involved here, for it is a perfect analogy. That hand is certainly involved when Capote delivers the final scene of the book. This scene is invented but, after the brutality of the previous 300 pages, it's a perfectly measured piece of relief and gentleness.

Perhaps the most creditable achievement of In Cold Blood is to be found in the unease it generates. Capote does not shy away from the messiness and uses the disquiet – the taboo, if you will – of discussing the crime to really make us reflect on the nature of crime and criminals. Like that bobcat in the trap mentioned above, we want to relieve but we also know that there is rage in the world that cannot be controlled, and certainly not by good or noble intentions. The Clutters were good people, by all accounts, but it didn't prevent cruel chance from destroying them in a horrible, drawn-out way. Mercy for the killers wouldn't have helped them, and certainly wouldn't have helped any future victims. Similarly, the fact that I feel unease about reading this, and feel a desire to be noble about it, doesn't prevent me from reading it as salaciously as everyone else.

For better or worse, Capote uses these emotions, dilemmas and taboos as fuel. The cracks in our worldview are where he finds his most potent material. When the killers point out that they're not the only killers in the courtroom, seeing as the jurors are contemplating the death penalty, there's some truth in it, however self-pitying. Hanging them is "pretty goddam cold-blooded too" (pg. 298) – perhaps an intentional counterpoint to Capote's chosen title. When the detectives, the jurors, the community – and we, the reader – want to hear the "morbid details from the killer's own terrible lips" (pg. 260), there's a sort of cold-bloodedness in this desire too. These two killers belong in hell, if there is one, but the reader still feels an unease at sending them there, at being the one to sift through the gory detail and judging them – and worse, at enjoying it. All the moreso because the killers are very much human and relatable; their evil cannot be attributed to a cosmic force. One of Capote's great successes in the book is in demonstrating how "the crime would not have occurred except for a certain frictional interplay between the perpetrators" (pg. 290). Horrible chance and an even more horrible – and entirely human – accumulation of malice meant the innocent Clutter family had to pay.

And, for the reader, this is disturbing. When one local resident suggests that the most appropriate punishment for the two murderers is to "be locked in the same cell for the rest of their lives. Never allowed any visitors. Just sit there staring at each other till the day they die" (pg. 241), he unwittingly hits upon why crimes like this one are so frightening and so compelling at the same time. There's no more terrifying fate than having to face up to reality. Monsters can be dismissed, defended against, our fears of them rationalized; human beings, unfortunately, have to be dealt with. When one of the killers converses with the bound, frightened young Nancy Clutter ("really nice… Said next to dancing what she liked best was to gallop a horse, so I mentioned my mother had been a champion rodeo rider" (pg. 236)), it's almost obscene that these two people are in the same room, that their two worlds have converged, and that the wrong one has the power of life and death over the other. The thrill of In Cold Blood lasts only as a memory; the enduring sense after reading the book is one of profound unease. If the entertainment of 'true crime' really is a deal with the devil, Capote is on hand to make sure we pay up. ( )
2 vote MikeFutcher | Mar 24, 2021 |
Well written, and great glimpse into the killers background and psyche. I found Perry Smith to be particularly sympathetic, which I'm sure was intentional. I'll say that this book struggled to hold my attention for large portions of it. The beginning was slow and I was not really interested in the daily lives of the victims. The investigation was kind of interesting, but not enough for me. I think the "true crime" genre is just something I'm not really into. ( )
  Andjhostet | Jan 11, 2021 |
As thrilling as ANY novel, the hype around this non-fiction classic is real, people. ( )
  Teresa1966 | Dec 22, 2020 |
Leer este libro es como coger un objeto de la mesa y mirarlo desde todos los angulos posibles.
Por ejemplo el teclado con el que estoy escribiendo esto. Puedes fijarte en cada tecla, en su textura, la presion que se necesita para escribir, el espaciado entre ellas. Y darte cuenta de detalles que de otras formas no sabrias que estan ahi, acabo de aprender el lugar de origen de mi teclado por ejemplo, da la casualidad que he estado en esa ciudad, ahora podria explicarte las condiciones de vida alli y la personalidad de su gente y como eso influye tambien en este teclado.

Bien, eso es lo que Truman Capote hace aqui pero con el asesinato de 4 personas en una granja en Kansas. Es una gran cantidad de material y esta presentado de forma clara y concisa. ( )
  trusmis | Nov 28, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 371 (next | show all)
If nothing else, In Cold Blood justifies another Capote conviction: that when reportage commands the highest literary skills, it can approach the level of art.
added by Shortride | editTime (Jan 21, 1966)
 

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Truman Capoteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Borràs, Maria LluïsaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Breckan, Eldor MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colacello, BobIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cornips, ThérèseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fujita, S. NeilCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larsstuvold, RuneForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ricci Dèttore, MariapaolaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomson, RupertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Een waar verslag van een viervoudige moord en zijn gevolgen.
Freres humains qui apres nour vivez

N'ayez les cuers contre nous endurcis,

Car, se pitie de nous povres avez,

Dieu en aura plus tost de vous mercis

Francois Villon
Ballade des pendus
Brothers, men who live after us,
Let not your hearts be hardened against us,
Because, if you have pity for us poor men,
God will have more mercy toward you.
Dedication
FOR Jack Dunphy AND Harper Lee
WITH MY LOVE AND GRATITUDE
First words
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there'.
Quotations
Mensenbroeders, gij die na ons leeft, wil niet verbitterd aan ons denken, want wie erbarmen met ons armen heeft, zal God veel eerder zijn genade schenken. (François Villon - Ballade der gehangenen)
In over three months I practically never left the Broadway area. For one thing, I didn't have the right clothes. Just Western clothes - jeans and boots. But there on Forty-second Street nobody cares, it all rides - anything. My whole life, I never met so many freaks.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

National Bestseller  On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.  As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

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Book description
Haiku summary
Two cons kill family.
Reporter relates the tale
In fiction format.

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Average: (4.14)
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Penguin Australia

4 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141182571, 014103839X, 0141043083, 0241956838

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