Tag Archives: True Crime

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.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden

The name Lizzie Borden is one that rings a bell for probably just about everyone, but for some of us, including me, I couldn’t call up any details, just that she was connected to a murder.

When I saw an advanced copy of Cara Robertson’s upcoming book called The Trial of Lizzie Borden, I snagged it as a chance to learn a little bit more.

Robertson’s book began as a thesis paper and evolved eventually to become the book. The book begins on a quiet morning in 1892 that quickly went south when two brutal murders were discovered in a quiet home on Second Street.

Robertson walks her readers through the police interviews and the inquest, then spends most of the book going day by day through the trial, presenting the case for and against Lizzie Borden. Though written in what I’d consider classic history/research paper style, the book still provides readers with a good deal of courtroom drama.

The prosecution endeavored to prove that Lizzie Borden was the only person who could conceivably have killed her father and stepmother, but her defense team poked holes through the prosecution’s case, and the jury returned a not guilty verdict (no, thats’s not really a spoiler unless you know absolutely nothing about the name Lizzie Borden. Also, the book will kind of give that away before you even start it.).

Though Lizzie was acquitted, there were never any other leads or suspects, begging the question, was she actually guilty?

The book presents the information to readers plainly, for the perspective of the two sides of the courtroom. The reader then gets to decide what weight to put on the evidence, like a jury member would. As I read, I found myself at times agreeing with both sides.

Well written, if a bit textbookish, Robertson’s book will be a must-read for true crime and history buffs when it hits the shelves in March.

Alias Grace

When the holiday dust settled and I calculated how much I had in Barnes and Noble gift cards, I knew two things: first, I was going to finally buy and finish the Outlander series, and second, that I was going to buy Alias Grace.

After watching the Netflix adaptation, I knew Margaret Atwood’s book was one that I needed to read and that I would really enjoy. I was right on both counts.

Grace Marks is a condemned murderess and has been in a penitentiary since she was 16 years old. She’s also spent some time in insane asylums. Psychologist Simeon Jordan is intrigued by her case, presented to her by a committee that is constantly petitioning for Grace’s release, believing her innocent. Grace herself says she can’t remember what happened that fateful day when her employer and his housekeeper were murdered. A scientist through and through, Jordan arranges a series of interviews with Grace to try to coax the truth out of her, but what he discovers will push his scientific mind to the limits and challenge what he is able to believe.

The bulk of the book is written in first person as Grace relating her life story to Jordan, thus, it’s written in a very casual and conversational tone, which makes the reading fast, as does the desire to know, is Grace insane, guilty, or innocent?

As I was reading this book, I was reminded of Cat Winters’ Yesternight (though, of course, this was written first), in that, despite being a fictional work, it challenges what you’re willing to believe, and leaves a degree of ambiguity at the conclusion.

And though it is a work of fiction, it is based on real people and a real case, which I find quite interesting as well. Atwood’s author’s note at the end provides clarification for what she drew from historical records (however conflicting and confusing) and what is creative liberties (mostly where records and facts were missing).

Atwood’s characters, and probably the real people behind them, are complex, and the reader gets the opportunity to puzzle things out herself, which makes for an engaging story. So for those who enjoy psychology, brain-teaser books, and just plain interesting stories, Alias Grace should move up to the top of your list. You won’t be disappointed.