In Cold Blood by Truman Capote : A Review

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Rating : 5/5

Goodreads Summary : 

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 mesmerising 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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My Review : 

This true crime novel by Truman Capote has managed to sit in my shelf gathering dust for around 3 years before I could muster the courage to unwrap and start reading it. When I decided to take a break from my Agatha Christie spree, I decided to go bold and read In Cold Blood, but not before ensuring that my husband was available at home for the entire duration so that I am not left alone with my hyper active imagination. But, what a book! This horrific tale of a brutal murder of a four member family and its aftermath fills your mind with terror at the mindless violence, grief over the futility of young and innocent lives wasted and anger at the young men who premeditated and performed this crime. Yet, this book is a master piece that completely captivates the readers. Personally, the book filled me with dread and despair which I am trying to flush out of my system by writing this review and closing this book forever.

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As Truman Capote was a controversial literary figure, made more so through In Cold Blood, I was completely familiar with the story of the Clutters and what was detailed in this book. Although Capote claimed this to be a non-fiction book completely based on a true life incident, it was evident that some parts were fabricated to make the story more interesting; and, you won’t find me complaining about that. The book is split into four chapters to denote the four important milestones in the Clutter case. The first part “Last to see Them Alive” provides an insight into the life of the Clutter family on their last day with the activities of the perpetrators (Perry and Dick) in parallel and concludes on the Sunday the crime is discovered. The second chapter details the activities of the criminals after the crime, along with a peek into their past as well as the efforts of the police to solve a nearly “perfect” crime. “Answer”, the third chapter, deals with the appearance of certain clues and the capture of the criminals. The last chapter named “The Corner” (prison terminology for death penalty) details the last years of the criminals filled with appeals and re-appeals to get “justice”.

Due to my familiarity with the theme, I tried to read the characterisation of the Clutter family from a neutral perspective without forming an attachment to the characters. Yet, the Clutters totally win us over, even from the minimal description in the book which according to the popular criticism of Capote does not do much justice to their goodness and grounded-ness. I was especially drawn to Nancy Clutter, the sweet tempered and graceful daughter who was also a village belle. The murder of this sweet and innocent family for money based on false information totally filled me with anger and helplessness. The brutality of the attack was unimaginable and nobody deserved to die such a meaningless death. And for what, the criminals just found forty dollars in the entire house!!

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Though Capote has tried to be completely neutral in describing the crime and its aftermath, I found the book slightly tilted towards showing Perry in a more sympathetic light. Dick is portrayed as an impulsive manly person who is also a meticulous planner, whereas Perry is depicted as the sympathetic person with a creative temperament albeit subjected to bouts of violent rage. Throughout the book, we are given in-depth analysis of the minds of Perry and Dick and their nature is laid bare through various anecdotes of their life, letters from their families and friends and autobiographical letters detailing their life. Capote tries to find out the motivation of the crime by analysing the root cause of their violent behaviour. The neglected and troublesome childhood of Perry is also detailed in depth. A motor accident which led to a severe brain injury in Dick’s life is given as a possible cause of his violent and reckless nature. The crime was committed due to the friction between the two contradictory personalities of the criminals – Dick, who got immense pleasure by having such power over people and Perry who murdered the innocents in a bout of uncontrollable rage.

“I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat” – Perry about Mr. Clutter

“It wasn’t because of anything the Clutter’s 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”  – Perry

The morality of capital punishment is also debated towards the end of the book. Does any crime, even ones as brutal as this, give people the right to take the life of others? The closing argument of the defence and prosecution lawyers were especially interesting in this scenario. Both of them took the aid of The Bible while arguing for and against capital punishment. Every statement mentioned is open to interpretation. Anyway, I personally did not have any sympathy towards the perpetrators as a troubled upbringing or personal difficulties are no excuse for brutal murders. The book had a great ending with the detective Al Dewey, who was in charge of the investigation, getting a closure after observing Perry and Dick hanging from the noose. Although nothing can replace the loss of loved ones, I hope that the surviving members of the Clutter family got some closure and peace in their life with the passage of time. To spread some positivity, I have included pictures of the Clutter family during happier times.

My Verdict :

This book is not for the weak-hearted. There are gruesome descriptions of the callous murder that can fill you with dread. The effect of reading this book will take some time to wear off. So, read with caution! Yet, this book is a fine example of great literature due to Capote’s sheer talent in delivering a story, describing the places and the people and excellent writing. A masterpiece totally worth the pain that you have to subject yourself. Sadly, this will be my first and last true crime novel.

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7 thoughts on “In Cold Blood by Truman Capote : A Review

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