Tuesday, 26 May 2015

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote - book review

It seems that one book which divides opinion is Truman Capote's 1966 non-fiction novel, "In Cold Blood", which tells the tale of the 1959 murder of four people in rural Kansas, and the subsequent trial and execution of the culprits.

One of the first things which became noticeable to me when reading "In Cold Blood" was that although the story is set primarily in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, there is also a distinct Steinbeckian/Dustbowl character to it, as if many of the sweeping cultural and economic changes of the post-war period had not yet reached certain parts of America.

There is quite a lengthy build-up to the crime itself, allowing us to gain a flavour of the temperament and background of all concerned. There is real poignancy in the passages portraying life in the town of Holcomb, the people going about their everyday business, oblivious to the horror which was to shortly be visited upon them. As we the readers know what is going to occur, we are given a keen appreciation of all that is about to be lost.

As many have observed, the interplay between the two murderers, Perry and Dick, is gripping and unsettling. The constant ruminations about the raw deal which life had supposedly dealt them, are food for thought, even if they do not diminish the disdain which one feels for them and their deeds. Whatever one might think of them, though, they are not one-dimensional people.

Whenever I am exposed these days to "true crime" literature or television, I am left thinking what else society could have done, pro-actively or otherwise, to prevent such terrible things happening. Maybe what really needs to be done to make resentment, alienation and envy marginally less prevalent is too much to ask for. The genie was out of the bottle long ago.

Another feature of "In Cold Blood" which intrigues me is that certain stereotypes are not adhered to. For example, the uneven attitudes to the death penalty, and the humanity and understanding shown by some residents and law enforcement people towards the prisoners.

The final stages of the novel deal with the execution of the two men, after their legal avenues had been exhausted. It didn't really feel like any particular stance was being adopted about capital punishment, and the story didn't do anything to shake my opposition to the practice. The words and the imagery speak for themselves.

The final scene, when the detective Dewey meets Susan in the cemetery, is a suitably eloquent note on which to close matters.

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