Skip to main content

Top mysteries challenge review: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Sub-title: A true account of a multiple murder and its consequences.
Year of publication: 1965 (as 4 long newspaper articles; in 1966 in book form)
Genre: True crime
Setting & time: Kansas, USA (mostly Holcomb and Garden City), other places around the USA; Mexico; 1959-1960.

Story and review:
In November 1959, a respectable and prosperous Kansas farmer, his wife and two of their children were murdered by two ex-convicts. The men had come there to rob them of what they expected would be a fortune. They only scored a small amount of money but left behind them a carnage that horrified the peaceful small town of Holcomb. Truman Capote read a short piece of news about the murders and went there to investigate. What emerged was this book which is part fact and part fiction. The Wikipedia entry on the book calls it a non-fiction novel, i.e. a basically true story written using the techniques of fiction.

I must admit that I am squeamish when it comes to reading about real crimes, especially violent ones. Even so, I found this story keeping me spellbound, and I think this is mostly because Capote makes it seem like fiction, even while drawing up excellent images of the participants so realistic that one can almost see them, and describing in cinematic detail events one knows really took place. The novelization technique he adopted, including the use of an omniscient narrator who tells the story in an impersonal manner instead of telling the story as himself, is a very good way to make the story seem like a novel and thus remove any misgivings the reader might feel upon reading, for example, the descriptions of the murders.

As in most cases of true crime writing, there is always some speculation going on, and Capote has been accused not only of speculation, but of downright fiddling with the truth in unverifiable parts of the story. Additionally, long passages of the story are based solely on what the two men told Capote about themselves, and are probably not totally reliable. That doesn’t detract from the quality of the storytelling, which is excellent and in the best tradition not only of the police procedural, but also of the psychological thriller. With the police procedural it has in common the detailed descriptions of the police’s gathering of evidence, and with the psychological thriller the building up of tension that one can’t help but feel, even though one knows perfectly well what’s going to happen. The slow unfolding of events, jumping first between the victims and killers, and then between the police and the killers, and between the past and the (narrative) present, along with the piecemeal passing out of information, so that one doesn’t have the whole picture until the last sentence, is brilliant.

Rating: An excellent example of true crime writing that many writers of true crime stories could learn something from. 4+ stars.

Books left in challenge: 102

Awards and nominations: None that I know of.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to make a simple origami bookmark

Here are some instructions on how to make a simple origami (paper folding) bookmark: Take a square of paper. It can be patterned origami paper, gift paper or even office paper, just as long as it’s easy to fold. The square should not be much bigger than 10 cm/4 inches across, unless you intend to use the mark for a big book. The images show what the paper should look like after you follow each step of the instructions. The two sides of the paper are shown in different colours to make things easier, and the edges and fold lines are shown as black lines. Fold the paper in half diagonally (corner to corner), and then unfold. Repeat with the other two corners. This is to find the middle and to make the rest of the folding easier. If the paper is thick or stiff it can help to reverse the folds. Fold three of the corners in so that they meet in the middle. You now have a piece of paper resembling an open envelope. For the next two steps, ignore the flap. Fold the square diagonally

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

List love: A growing list of recommended books with elderly protagonists or significant elderly characters

I think it's about time I posted this, as I have been working on it for a couple of months. I feel there isn’t enough fiction written about the elderly, or at least about the elderly as protagonists. The elderly in fiction tend to be supporting characters, often wise elders (such as  Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books) or cranky old neighbour types (e.g. the faculty of Unseen University in the Discworld series) or helpless oldsters (any number of books, especially children’s books) for the protagonist to either help or abuse (depending on whether they’re a hero or not). Terry Pratchett has written several of my favourite elderly protagonists and they always kick ass in one way or another, so you will see several of his books on this list, either as listed items or ‘also’ mentions. Without further ado: Here is a list of books with elderly protagonists or significant, important elderly characters. I leave it up to you to decide if you’re interested or not, but I certai