In Cold Blood should be on the curriculum of every single journalism course.
I’m not the first person to make this statement and there is no doubt that I always won’t be the last. But I feel so passionate about this book that I just have to say it, on my blog, to people I meet, to strangers on the tube.
If you love writing, you need to read this book and I secretly hate myself for waiting almost 24 years to read it.
The obsession with killers is still as alive as it ever was. Jake Evans, who murdered his mother and sister, has a fanclub on Tumblr, because he is “misunderstood”. London is constantly naming murderers the new Jack the Ripper in the hope that they will find a story as juicy as Jack again. People love reading and hearing about murders, and the more gruesome the better. The more we can say “Oh God, who would do that? What’s wrong with him?”, the more we read to find out.
And that’s exactly what Capote figured out for his novel: people want to read about murders and know why someone would do that. This information is almost never gathered from newspaper reports, which have to stick to being objective and formal.
Novels on the other hand can explore a range of things that are informal, subjective and great to read. Combining the two meant that Capote found the goldmine of literature.
The book starts off by describing the Clutter family, an ordinary Kansas farming family, that does things we can all imagine ourselves doing; working, romancing, struggling with life and family. However, they are also more kind than most of us are, which strikes a chord with the reader – they are the kind of family you would love to have as your neighbor.
Until they get gruesomely murdered by two men. One, Perry, is thoroughly introduced at the beginning of the book as a nice and misunderstood intelligent man. The other one, Dick, is only seen through the eyes of Perry and scares the reader from the beginning. Something is off about Dick and we all hope and pray that Perry realizes this before they actually commit the murder they talk about.
Without spoiling the book too much, a lot of the tables turn. The murder is not the spoiler, since most people already know the basic outline of the Clutter case. The spoilers are the way the characters are described and the way they evolve.
Capote’s description of the murder of the family might be the most chilling thing you will ever read. It is vivid, without being over the top, and you can imagine it happening to you – which is only reinforced by the fact that the reader knows it is a true story. The murders turn out to be completely different people than you suspected in the beginning and then they are the same again and then they change again… A reader is constantly torn between rooting for them and absolutely despising them.
It won’t be a spoiler to say that almost no characters in the book survive, which makes it really sad to say goodbye to this book. You are introduced to such a wide range of characters, some good, some bad, but all of them so very human that you can’t help but relate to them. And then you close the book and they are all gone. It drained me from my energy for the rest of the day and I needed a night of sleep before I could think about writing a review.
In Cold Blood is a must-read for everyone who loves writing and wants to learn how to write, but prepare yourself emotionally. Capote takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride and makes you doubt what’s right and what’s wrong about the criminal system, life and yourself.