Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ sublimely narrates the murder and subsequent investigation of the Clutter family in sleepy Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959. Capote’s frank journalistic account follows the murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock in their journey to Holcomb and their flight from it. He paints them as indefensively human from the outset – and not the “cold blooded” killers people might have imagined them to be.
The unique amalgamation of factual sources and fictional techniques, narrates the last day of the Clutter family alongside the journey of Smith and Hickock to Holcomb. Capote demonstrates how, in the surface, the normalcy of the Clutter households’ day is not so vastly different to the seemingly unremarkable road trip of two young men. Following on from this, the way the murder is discovered in Holcomb and the investigation which soon ensues, is also played out alongside the flight of the two men and how they come to be discovered. This culminates in the capture of the killers and the chilling details of the murder finally being hashed out through their interrogation.
Getting into the crux of the story, through his descriptions of Smith and Hickock, Capote paints them as anomalies. They are portrayed as striking out from the crowd physically (Perry is strong in the torso but has ‘dancers’ legs and feet) and psychologically (Dick has a sexual inclination towards young girls), as well as having a close relationship which could be seen as something more than friendship. Despite all this, it is hard to envisage them as capable of murder.
‘In Cold Blood’ provokes questions about human psychology and the evilness of man. When the identity and motives of the killers is finally exposed, the residents of Holcomb all struggle to come to terms with how such an atrocious act could have been committed without any justified reason or provocation. Capote also gives acknowledgement to other murders which are committed in Kansas, raising the issue of how such atrocities have become somewhat banal and commonplace. However shocking and callous this might seem.
The evocativeness and stylishness that Capote writes with is the where the real strength of the book lies. I found it both a captivating and chilling read which left me questioning everything I previously thought about murderers and what drives people to commit such crimes against one another.