Random House | 1966
I have an
unhealthy obsession totally normal interest in true crime. I love mystery-crime fiction. And I’m not comfortable just resting on my laurels and staying in the here-and-now. I want to know the history of the things I love. I want to have developed an appreciation for those that came before and helped contribute to making these genres as accessible as they are, and as artistic as they’ve become.
I also want to be that girl who reads classic novels and has a nighttime face routine and wakes up early to take her dog for a walk before making a fresh smoothie full of kale or cucumber or like avocado toast. Whatever the healthy people are doing these days.
But if my reading experience with In Cold Blood has taught me anything it’s that I’m none of those things and classic novels are boring as shit. I got out of bed this morning fifteen minutes before I needed to leave. And I don’t give a fuck.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. I give a tiny baby of a fuck and not all classic novels suck. #NotAllClassicNovels.
Honestly, I’m super disappointed that I didn’t like this. I feel like I should have. It’s almost a rite of passage to read this book if you’re in the murderino scene. It’s so popular and has all those keywords on the cover – “spell-binding”, “masterpiece…”
WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? This book is giving me an extensional crisis.
In Cold Blood was written over a period of seven years and published in 1966. It was not the first true crime novel ever written, but it is the first to bring the true crime genre to mainstream culture. Capote created the blueprint. He’s a trailblazer.
And I didn’t like it?! I DIDN’T LIKE IT.
The novel details the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote learned of the murders before the killers were captured and became enraptured in the quadruple murder.
A little piece of trivia for you: The Clutters were killed on November 15th. That just happens to be my birthday.
All the stars were aligning to tell me that I need this book in my life. Turns out that’s some BS.
Capote travelled to Kansas with fellow author, Harper Lee, and together they interviewed the small farming community, including the killers – taking thousands of pages of notes. The killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested six weeks after the murders, and later executed by the state. Capote followed the case right up to the bitter end and then published his masterpiece. It became an instant success and is the second-biggest-selling true crime novel in history.
The first being Helter Skelter, unsurprisingly.
But still, I didn’t like this.
For one, I found the amount of detail and description to be suffocating. It buried the story. Capote took the information given to him and extrapolated on it until it was three times bigger than what was originally expressed. His writing is both factual information gathered from interviews and case files, and also extremely exaggerated. He filled in any empty spaces with his assumptions, fictionalize drama and unsubstantiated information, leaving no room to breathe.
Many readers found this style captivating – I’m an outlier in my review – I just found it to be exhausting and constricting.
The overstuffed detail created a reading experience that was dry and slow for me. Which is never a good thing. You have to get some lube up in there, whether that comes in the form of a bit more action or less detail so the reading experience moves more smoothly.
My personal reading preferences wouldn’t allow me to get past the style. I need something that moves. A slow-burner is fine, as long as it has a pulse. Maybe it’s my desensitized nature. Maybe it’s what I’ve come to expect from a crime novel. Maybe I am just too young to enjoy something written at a time where a violent crime was stunning, not something that happened in between every school shooting.
OR MAYBE no one else loves this, you all just hand out five stars because you think you’re supposed to love this; because you don’t want to look like the one asshole who didn’t like a classic novel.
I have no issue being that asshole.
Overall, even the crime itself is rather boring. I derive most of my interest in crime novels from either the motive or the investigation – the psychology or the puzzle. The book featured detectives that did little work to solve the crime and were stumped and unsure of what to do. The motivation of the killers was mundane and, in the end, kind of unsatisfying.
I think, given that it’s a true crime, that’s not necessarily unsurprising. Murder is a waste of life and it’s almost always over something petty or so small it was not worthy of the devastating outcome. But this novel builds itself up as if we’re going to learn something unexpected or heinous. And that never happens. It’s just another waste of life and I found the build-up to be a letdown.
The most interesting part of this novel, at this point for me, is the controversy behind it – that Capote changed facts to suit the narrative he wished to tell. He added scenes and manufactured dialogue and passed it off as “100% factually accurate.” He would later walk that back.
“I recognized it as a work of art, but I know fakery when I see it…” – true crime writer, Jack Olsen
Alvin Dewey, the lead investigator in In Cold Blood, has said that the last scene, in which he visits the Clutters’ graves, was Capote’s invention, while other Kansas residents whom Capote interviewed have claimed they or their relatives were mischaracterized or misquoted.
I’m torn between what kind of star rating to apply here. On one hand, had this been just any novel that I picked up, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this on its own merits. But it is a classic novel that helped to create an entire genre. You have to respect that, despite its factually questionable status and the overwrought detail.
I’m in a good mood though because weed was just legalized in Canada, so I’m giving it an extra 1/2 star for catching me on a good day.
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.