New & Notable: In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences
In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences
By Truman Capote
New York: Vintage Books, 1993
From Professor Marilyn Berger:
“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” So begins the first line of Truman Capote’s ground-breaking, non-fiction masterpiece about a prairie town in the heartland of America and the lives and deaths of six people—four are members of the Clutter family who lived on River Valley Farm‑‑William, wife and mother Bonnie; daughter Nancy (sixteen); and Kenyon (fifteen). Forever linked to the Clutter family are the lives of the two men who saw the Clutter family last on November 15, 1959, Richard Eugene Hickock (Dick) and Perry Edward Smith, who brutally murdered the Clutter family. Five years, four months, and twenty-nine days later, on April 14, 1965, Dick and Perry were hanged for the four murders at a warehouse in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas.
Truman Capote adopts a novelistic writing style by telling the story from various perspectives. Capote introduces the reader to the Clutter family through a routine day in the life of all four innocents. By using the murdered, the murderers, and the detective as narrators to tell their stories; the reader is left to decide the “why” of this savage crime.
Constructed like a documentary story and a fictional novel, In Cold Blood paved the way for a new style of writing about real crime with writers that continue to tell stories in the genre set out by Capote ‑ specifically, Anne Rule (The Stranger Beside Me‑Ted Bundy); Norman Mailer (The Executioner’s Song‑Gary Gilmore-[Mailer was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for this book]); Vincent Bugliosi (Helter Skelter: The True Story of The Manson Murders), and others.
Why did I choose this book? To begin with, I believe lawyers are born to tell stories. Whether they are practicing as prosecutors, defense counsel, plaintiff or defendant civil lawyers, or doing mediation or arbitration, storytelling is what lawyers do. Researching and presenting cases requires crafting a case as a story within the strictures of procedure and evidence rules. Referring to the structural techniques of real stories as the one told by Truman Capote’s In cold Blood provides a model of how to weave the elements of a true story into a spellbinding narrative. The examination of the event in the lonesome prairie town of Holcomb, Kansas, and the four lives snuffed out by a robbery turned ugly provides a realistic perspective of a social environment, detailed biographies of Dick and Perry, and insight into the psychology of their criminal minds.
Capote’s well-researched background and narrative have educated my own work on non-fiction documentary film and contributed to the importance of attention to detail which is necessary for a well-structured and true to form story. Truman Capote’s writing of In Cold Blood is itself a fascinating story; the focus of two captivating movies, Capote (2005), directed by Bennett Miller starring Philip Seymour Hoffman; and Infamous (2006), directed by Douglas McGrath starring Sigourney Weaver and Toby Jones.
From the Publisher:
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.
About the Author:
Writer, raconteur, and bon vivant, Capote was born in New Orleans in 1924. His literary career began impressively at the tender age of 24 with the publication of Other Voices, Other Rooms. In addition to In Cold Blood, Capote also wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a series of travel sketches, and other short stories and journalistic pieces. In Cold Blood, however, firmly established his reputation as a writer of the first rank. This chronicler of the sinister and grotesque battled with drugs, alcohol, and mental illness through his life. Capote died in 1984.