In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood
Truman Capote


A non-fiction novel. What is that, exactly? Many believe that the pioneer of this genre was Truman Capote. His best selling book, In Cold Blood, is a chilling depiction of a senseless murder. In a 1966 New York Times interview with George Plimpton, Capote explains his decision to write a book about the brutal 1959 murder of a Kansas family:

The motivating factor in my choice of material—that is, choosing to write a true account of an actual murder case—was altogether literary. The decision was based on a theory I’ve harbored since I first began to write professionally, which is well over 20 years ago. It seemed to me that journalism, reportage, could be forced to yield a serious new art form: the ‘nonfiction novel,’ as I thought of it.

The result was In Cold Blood. Published in 1966, it became an instant success and is considered Capote’s masterpiece.

On November 14, 1959, Herb Clutter, his wife, Bonnie and their two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon, were brutally murdered in their Holcomb, Kansas home. Their killers, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, were two ex-cons looking for fast cash. They’d heard that the Clutters had a safe full of money and drove over 400 miles across the state to rob the family. When they discovered there was no safe, and very little cash, the two men killed the Clutters in a rage.

I was curious about this book, but I had avoided it for many years. I don’t like reading violent crime stories, but as a Capote fan, I knew I had to read it. While the story is about the crime and the investigation, it is equal parts a picture of a small middle-American farming town and a psychological study of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. While I had no sympathy for these men, I was fascinated with their back stories. Hickcock’s insistence on robbing the Clutters, along with Smith’s unpredictable reactions to people and situations led to killings that may not have happened on a different day.

Capote and his childhood friend, Harper Lee, went to Kansas to research the story and compiled over 8000 pages of notes. They were granted numerous interviews with Hickock and Smith, who by then, had confessed and were in jail awaiting trial. They moved to death row after their convictions, where Capote continued to interview them until their hangings. He became particularly attached to Perry Smith and related to his unhappy childhood.

In Cold Blood was first published as a four-part serial in The New Yorker in 1965. It was published in book form the following year. How Capote organized this vast amount of information and assembled the story is extraordinary.

Capote made a lot of friends in Kansas, but he also made some enemies. He was particularly close to the lead investigator, Alvin Dewey, but Duane West, a prosecuting attorney, hated Capote. West called the book “garbage” (but he didn’t read it) and claimed that it wasn’t factual. He said that Capote made Dewey into a hero, when the real hero was a man named Rohleder, who captured important evidence in his photographs. Some townspeople felt they were not accurately portrayed and others have criticized the account as being inaccurate. My sense is that there were a lot of big egos in town and readers need to decide for themselves.

What is definitely true is that Capote’s writing is excellent, as I expected. And as a side note, this book isn’t nearly as violent as current true crimes and thrillers. Have you read In Cold Blood? What did you think?

For more Truman Capote, visit these links:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
“House of Flowers”
“La Côte Basque”
Who’s That Author? Truman Capote
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

27 thoughts on “In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

    1. Hi Stephanie – so am I! For some reason, I thought it was a very long book, but it’s only a little over 300 pages and was a pretty quick read. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for the visit – hope you’re ready for a nice weekend!

    1. Hi Derrick – yes, I have watched many videos about the book and about Capote’s fascination with the subject. He became very attached to Perry Smith and people have said that he fell in love with him during that time. Capote was a complicated person and writer, but I think he was also an excellent one. Thanks for stopping by – what’s for dinner? 😉

  1. I never read it – I still have to read ‘to kill a mocking bird’ by Harper Lee – but I’ve read a lot of great reviews about this one. One day, I may pick it up.
    Great review!

    1. Hi Jina – those are two great books. High school kids read To Kill a Mockingbird here in 9th grade. I’ve read it a couple times when my kids were reading it. Just like you, I have many books I want to read and may pick up one day! Thanks for the visit 🙂

  2. I’ve had a copy of this book on my shelf for years — so glad to read your review! I’ve only read Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, but I know I need to read In Cold Blood.

    1. Hi Lisa, I am glad I read it, finally. I have always liked Truman Capote’s writing. His persona is so different from his style and the reputation he had with the ladies on Fifth Avenue. Everyone has said it was his masterpiece and I agree. I’ve watched many interviews with him (the early ones) and whenever he talks about his writing, he is very serious about his profession and seemed to have a vision of how he should approach different projects. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Hi Barbara, this is a most interesting book and commentary. I also write what I call fictionalised historical fiction which is based on a set of true facts. It is difficult as you have to be very careful you get all the facts right. The fictionalisation comes in with describing the characters reactions and emotions but not into the detailed factual account. It is a difficult and exacting way of writing.

  4. Some fascinating information about a book I’ve read several times. I had no idea it was first a four part serial … it is such a fluid read that one can’t tell at all. I agree it is definitely not as violent as many modern books and the psychological study is incredible. Glad you got to read this, Barbara and thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Hi Annika – I’m guessing you liked In Cold Blood as much as I did. I think Capote was a fantastic writer and the way he put together this story with all the psychological analysis was brilliant to me. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it but I’m glad I made the time. Hope you are doing well!

    1. I agree – I pretty much read non-stop during my non-working or sleeping hours. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m going to watch it soon. I went on a Truman Capote YouTube binge last week, so I’ve seen parts of it. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    1. Thank you, Sherrey. I think Capote did a fantastic job putting all of his research into this excellent story. I thought the psychological profiles were particularly interesting. Capote had a few different personas, and his social reputation was much different, but he was serious about his writing craft. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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