I first found out about In Cold Blood when watching Capote, which starred the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role. It’s a great film and focuses on author, Truman Capote’s, obsession with the the Clutter murder trial and in particular accused killer, Perry Smith. I added the book to my “to-read” list but it’s taken me three and a half years to actually read it.
In Cold Blood tells the complex story of the real life murder of the Clutters, a well-regarded farming family in the town of Holcomb, Kansas. The family of four were shot in their home in November 1959 for what initially seemed like a few dollars and some cheap items. It was a crime that shook the local community to its core and sparked a challenging investigation for local law enforcement, which ultimately ended in the arrest and execution of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.
Capote spent six years interviewing every possible person related to the case in-depth with a particular focus on Perry Smith. Apparently he produced over 8,000 pages of notes.
The result is detailed study of not only the crime itself but also the Clutters, their community, the murders and the Kansan legal system written in a novelistic style. It was unlike anything I have ever read before and I found it hard to put down. I couldn’t remember much about the actual case from the film so a lot of the detail came as a surprise and I found Capote’s attempt to unpick Smith and Hickock’s psyches fascinating.
One does have to ask the question of how much is fact and how much is Capote’s supposition as he regularly claims to know what various “characters” are thinking and feeling but this doesn’t really impact on the enjoyment of the book.
It is easy to see why In Cold Blood is considered a modern classic and I have no reservation in recommending it. It’s really made me want to revisit Capote.