” I’d been too dazed, too numb, to feel the full viciousness of it. The suffering. The horror. They were dead. A whole family. Gentle, kindly people, people I know—murdered. You had to believe it, because it was really true. ” (I, 66)
In Cold Blood is a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences that Truman Capote spent five years on unraveling, following, and writing. Until the tragedy, few Americans had ever heard of Holcomb, the lonely hamlet in western Kansas where the murders took place on November 15, 1959.
But who hated the Clutters? I never heard a word against them; they were about as popular as a family can be, and if something like this would happen to them, then who’s safe, I ask you? (I, 70)
Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were in prison when they heard from another inmate, Floyd Wells, who had worked at Clutter’s farm for a year some 10 years ago, that Herb Clutter is very wealthy and he has money stashed in a safe in his house. After being released from Kansas State Penitentiary, the duo immediately drew up plans to obtain the money. Hickock wrote a series of hot checks to derive money for tools. With a knife, a 12-gauge shotgun and a length of cord, they robbed the Clutters, ransacking the house getting no more than fifty dollars, a pair of binoculars, and a transistor radio. Assuming the soft-spoken Herb Clutter lied about the hidden cash, they executed in cold blood Herb, his wife, and their son and daughter—bound, gagged, and shot. What appeared, then unbeknownst to investigators, to be murder with no apparent motive, did have a very long-shot but simple one: robbery.
If I hadn’t [done a three-to-five), then I never would have met Dick, and maybe Mr. Clutter wouldn’t be in his grave. But there it is. I come to meet Dick. (III, 161)
And it wasn’t because of anything the Clutters did. They never hurt me. Like other people. Like people have all my life. Maybe it’s just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it. (IV, 290)
What follows is an account of the investigation of the crime, the town’s overwhelming reaction, the rumors flying, the funeral, a fluke almost as gratuitous as the killing itself, how the police captured the murderers, and the trial.
. . . and though she was usually alone in her opinions, this time she was not without company, for the majority of Holcomb’s population, having lived for seven weeks amid unwholesome rumors, general mistrust, and suspicion, appeared to feel disappointed at being told that the murderer was not someone among themselves. (III, 231)
In Cold Blood is an exceptional piece of literature that captures America in time for one of its most notorious incident. It stands out among many a crime fiction and true crime documentary with its reality, that which if heard out patiently (Truman Capote committed to his memory the event and its dialogues thoroughly), can orchestrate its own full range. That he spent a substantial portion of his life researching about the crime and its aftermath allows him to write it as a novel. He presents the facts in a manner so emotionally detached that they declare a reality that transcends reality. Everyone involved—victims, murderers, investigators, and outsiders—come alive in the words. The Clutters were especially poignant victims whose lives denied possibility of evil until they knew the terror at their door. The killers, one perfectly sane and the other schizophrenic, are both social dropouts filled with nausea, world-weariness, and loneliness. The peaceful congregation of neighbors and friends suddenly had to endure the disquieting experience of distrusting one another. The squadron of psychiatrists, poised on determining whether the duo was in full contact with reality and the consequences of their actions, unveiled mental abnormality and darkness of their subjects.
This is a deeply haunting and disturbing book. I don’t know which is more chilling: the atrocious crime itself, or Capote’s chronicle of the crime with surgically precise writing. The sound of it, that is, the voice of the narrative, as corroborated by the audio, creates the illusion of a soundtrack. The book not only manages a moral judgment without Capote’s appearance, it also restores dignity to the event.
343 pp. Trade Paperback/Audio. [Read/
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