Crime Nonfiction

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

22 December 2020
In Cold Blood Book Cover In Cold Blood
Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, a wealthy farmer, his wife and their two young children were found brutally murdered. Blood all over the walls, the telephone lines cut, and only a few dollars stolen. Heading up the investigation is Agent Al Dewey, but all he has are two footprints, four bodies, and a whole lot of questions.

Truman Capote's detailed reconstruction of the events and consequences of that fateful night, In Cold Blood is a chilling, gripping mix of journalistic skill and imaginative power.


An outstanding and powerful work of literature, even more impressive because it conveyed true crimes, a profound investigative insight, the vivid sense of time and place, and the atmosphere that cloaked the evil events carried out on November 15 in 1959, in Holcomb, Kansas. Truman Capote is an artist that painted every detail of the story with such a detailed flow that causes us to stop and appreciate the surroundings rather than wishing the story was being pushed at a faster pace.

Looking at America in the 50s from the perspective of a foreigner we often think more of a Holywood version of an innocent age, affluent, white picket fences, apple pie, and rock and roll pervading the airwaves. If anyone asked me when and where I’d liked to have lived it would have been the US in the 1950s. In Cold Blood smashes that image with the reality that cruelty can take away life, a community’s character and the idyllic vision I’d imagined above.

Dick Hickock and Perry Smith

The murders of four of the Clutter family by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith for $40, stunned not only the population of Holcomb but ultimately a world-wide audience. My vision, I so wanted to believe of the US, couldn’t have been better envisioned than by Holcomb in the 1950s, where families rarely locked their doors and the safety of the neighbourhood was never doubted. Hickock and Smith not only brutally destroyed the lives of four innocent people but destroyed the fundamental promise of safety in our own homes.

The story explores the background of the murderers, what drove them, how they considered what they had done, the investigation into the crimes, and the community that became fearful and suspicious that for a long time they did not know who was responsible. To achieve this nonfiction novel with such beautiful prose is a seminal point in literature where it is arguable that Capote created a new genre.

I have for a long time been fascinated by the relationship between Truman Capote and Harper Lee and how they helped each other research and draft their renowned classics. It is interesting that Harper Lee had been inspired during the ‘In Cold Blood’ collaboration with Capote to research and use the case of Robert Burns who shot dead the serial killer, Reverend Willie Maxwell, to write her own true-crime novel – which never materialised. Another relationship Capote shattered during his years of self-destruction.

I do believe this is a must-read novel and is surely a classic and a powerful combination of true-crime with such beautiful writing talent. I have my wonderful friend Julie Grippo who encouraged me to read this book and read along with me when we had the opportunity to do so.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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