Book Review: IN COLD BLOOD, by Truman Capote

When no fewer than three people stop you in the bookstore to point out what a great book it is you're considering, one can't help but have certain high (very high) expectations of said book. Two of the people who stopped me were employees; the third was a stranger with a pronounced German accent. I took them at their word, and bought IN COLD BLOOD.

I was not disappointed. I was not in the neighborhood of disappointment, nor perhaps, in the same town as disappointment. I'll say it, too: IN COLD BLOOD is a great book.

Published in 1965, IN COLD BLOOD reconstructs the brutal murder of four members of a prominent ranching family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, and follows the investigation of the near-perfect crime to its resolution. Capote's sense of timing and the pacing of the story are flawless: he depicts an entire community as it suffers the fall-out of this vicious crime, and as its citizens begin, for the first time, to distrust one another; he portrays the killers and their victims with a skillful empathy that displays the subjects' many facets in a curiously objective light.

IN COLD BLOOD is a fascinating study of violence that is at times disturbing, at times uncomfortable, but always unflinchingly honest. Several times, Capote gave me chills--his mastery of language is incredible, so that he could set up an entire scene in a subdued, unthreatening tone, but then knock my socks off with a single image: a lawyer, touching the back of his neck in a courtroom; the lazy circling of a housefly. Of all the varied scenes and circumstances of the book, those deceptively insignificant images were the ones that stuck with me.

To sum up, Capote can use phrases like, "in a pool of his own blood" and make them scary rather than cliche--probably because he said it first, though I couldn't back that up. But I bet he did say it first.


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