In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood is a pretty straightforward presentation of Truman Capote’s research on some brutal murders in 1959. What is less straightforward is all of it. I was confused at first as to why a true crime book would be categorized as fiction. So I Googled it. But before I reveal that, let’s review the book.

In Cold Blood opens with the final day lived by the Clutter family, a father, mother, daughter, and son living in a small town in Kansas. Wealthy and well-liked, the brutal murder of the family came as a shock to the town. Local law enforcement struggled to find motive and leads that could make sense of the crime.

The murderers, meanwhile, were squandering their freedom after their near-perfect crime. A series of foolish mistakes made it possible for them to be tracked and eventually caught. What started as a tenuous case became set in stone when authorities got confessions from the killers.

Capote drew on many first-person interviews as his primary sources for anything he didn’t witness himself. The book is engaging, showing simultaneously the investigation by authorities and the careless behaviors of the criminals before they were caught. It’s well written and comes across as a professionally done true crime story.

To find it in fiction, then, made me wonder why. One quick search revealed a never-published manuscript written by one of the convicted murderers that, 50 years later, posed some questions about Capote’s writing and why he never mentioned it in his own book (popular suspicion is because he was involved in some shady business that ensured it was never published).

To me, this could be it’s own investigative book (maybe it is, I should search that, too). It also highlights that turning a profit on tragedy isn’t anything new, probably wasn’t anything new in the 1960s, either. And while people pick apart the brains of criminals, we seem much less interested in the motives behind the people who display more socially acceptable cold-blooded tendencies.

It was an interesting read, and I’m curious how schools that include it on required reading lists deal with the discrepancies and the questions. For any true crime junkie who hasn’t already been there, it seems like In Cold Blood could have quite the rabbit hole to keep you entertained for quite some time.

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