19. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote.
History: When Capote learned of the quadruple murder, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. Bringing his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee along to help gain the confidence of the locals, who mistrusted Capote, and together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. The killers were arrested not long after the murders, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book. It is considered the originator of the non-fiction novel. After the criminals were found, tried, and convicted, Capote held personal interviews with both Smith and Hickock. Smith especially fascinated Capote; in the book he is portrayed as the more sensitive and guilt-ridden of the two killers. Rumors of a romantic and even sexual relationship between Smith and Capote still linger to this day. The book was not completed until after Smith and Hickock were executed.
Plot: Two ex-convicts on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, committed the robbery and murders on November 15, 1959. Richard Hickock had heard from a fellow prisoner who had once worked for the Clutters, said that he thought there was a safe at the ranch where Herb Clutter kept large amounts of cash, but he couldn't be sure. Hickock later contacted Smith about committing the robbery with him. Hickock hatched the idea in prison to commit the robbery, leave no witnesses and start a new life in Mexico with the cash from the Clutter home. The information proved to be false, since Herb Clutter did not keep cash on hand, had no safe, and did all his business using checks to better keep track of transactions. After driving across the state of Kansas and discovering that there was no money to be found at the Clutters' home, Smith slit Herb Clutter's throat and then shot him in the head. Kenyon, then Nancy, and then Bonnie were murdered, each by single shotgun blasts to the head. Smith claimed in his oral confession that Hickock murdered the two women. Hickock always maintained that Smith did all four killings. Hickock and Smith were arrested in Las Vegas about six weeks after the murders. They pleaded temporary insanity during the trial, but local GPs evaluated the accused and pronounced them sane. After five years on death row, Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging April 14, 1965.
Review: I think I read this book in college, recommended by Amanda. I don’t think the novel was intended to scare people, but for years, I had intruder – phobia. I liked the way that the story is written weaving events and characters backward and forward so that there’s a sense of all the threads coming together. I also liked the fact that in the first part of the book where the crime takes place, Capote makes sure that you get no more information about it than the innocent parties discovering the scene do except for knowing who the killers are. You have no idea of their motive or method. While ostensibly reportage, the book toys with the questions of motive and reality as well as morality and guilt.
Opening Line: The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’.
Closing Line: Then, starting home, he walked towards the trees, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.
Quotes: “Nancy Clutter is always in a hurry, but she always has time. And that’s one definition of a lady,”
Rating: Very Good.