Capote’s In Cold Blood, considered by many critics as the original non-fiction novel, (def: a literary genre, which depicts real historical figures and actual events narrated woven together with fictitious allegations and using the storytelling techniques of fiction) is the story of a brutal murder in Kansas in the 1960s. The Clutters seem the perfect family and the most unlikely victim of a crime. The father, Herbert Clutter is a devout religious men, very conservative and strict, but fair. A leader in his community, he is one of the wealthiest farmers but NEVER has any cash. The daughter, Nancy, is admired and loved by everyone for her helpful nature. The boy, Kenyon, seems shy, but shows some artistic talent. The mother, Bonnie, has been long suffering from a clinical depression but at the time was healing at home. The other two Clutter children were already married and away from home at the time.
This happy idilly was ruined on a November night in 1959 when all four of them were brutally murdered by Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, two ex-convicts on a parole . The usual motive, robbery, was doubted by the policy because the only “valuables” missing were $40 and an old radio.
In Cold Blood is not a detective novel with the usual suspence: who-did-it and will-they-catch-them. This is already known. Even if you hadn’t heard about the Clutters before starting the book, you would be tempted to read their actual story. This doesn’t ruin the pleasure of reading In Cold Blood. The dry police reports and news articles tell us the who and the what but they almost always lack the why. And there on the stage comes Capote. The author focuses on the psychological profile of the murderers. What (if any) in their childhood led to this? How did they feel while doing it? Why do it? Did they feel remorse afterwards? What is it like to be on death row for 4 years? Why?
The suspense lies in the details. In the before and after the crime. In the actual crime, but seen through the eyes of the two murderers and not reported by a newspaper. That’s what makes Capote’s novel impossible to let go. The author follows the psychological development and emotions of Dick and Perry. Their childhood, their relationships with other people, their feelings, fears and passions are carefully scrutinized so that the reader can formulate his own answer to the why question.
Official motive: robbery. Result: $10/head. Real motive: That’s for the reader to decide. Capote’s description is so enchanting and real that I felt I knew Dick and Perry, I was every step of the way with them. I was leaning behind their shoulder when they slaughtered four innocent victims and I was waiting for them to be hanged. Capote’s story is about a brutal murder but the author doesn’t condemn or critisize. He describes real people, real problems, real motives. At the end, I didn’t hate Pery and Dick and I didn’t feel sorry for them. I just understood them and accepted them. And then frankly is a far from easy task – making a character likeable when he has done the unthinkable and the forbidden.
Capote brought us this pleasure by mere chance. He was transfixed with the story after reading a short exerpt from a local newspaper and then travelling miles with his friend Harper Lee (the author of To Kill a Mockingbird) to the crime scene. He didn’t know before or while investigating or writing whether this is going to be a blop or a success. Of course, there was criticism. From the victims and their relatives that Capote made up some of the stories or changed dialogues. From detectives and town people that Capote made up some of the stories or changed dialogues. From literary critics that Capote made up some of the stories or changed dialogues. Yes he did and why the hell no? This is NOT a police report or a scientific article, which needs to be exact. This is a novel based on actual events. Let’s go back to the definition I provided in the beginning: […woven together with fictitious allegations…] Embelishing, altering, adding and deleting is part of the process and if I wanted to read EXACTLY how it happened, well I would have read THE POLICE REPORT.
The only thing the book is really lacking is the two surviving daughters’ perspective. Not because Capote didn’t try, but because they didn’t want to. I understand (or I try) what it must feel like to see your greatest tragedy exposed to the whole world and become a bestseller and to spot the inconsistencies and the dissimilarities with the reality.
Finally, how did Capote knew so much about Dick and Perry? He spent time with them in their cells while they were on death row for four years. Rumours have it he actually had a sexual relationship with Perry. I am inclined to believe that, or at least I acknowledge that some special relationship between them must have existed. On a shallow glance, Perry is the more evil and the devious one. He grew up in an unstable family and it seemed he was the “more” guilty one. In some perverse way, at least for me he is the more likeable one.
Before, during, and after reading In Cold Blood I was infatuated with reading about the Clutters, Dick and Perry. I browsed pages and photos and interviews, I was possessed and I wanted to know more and more. And when I finished, I knew I hadn’t read just a mere crime novel. I had read a journey through the devious human mind, in which there are no four victims, but six.
More from Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s