Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

OK, folks, let’s jump forward a century or so. My next Keeping Up With The Penguins undertaking was Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, published in 1966 – the first “novelistic true crime book”… probably.

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote - Keeping Up With The Penguins

No one could ever accuse Capote of not putting in the hours: the masochist spent six years researching and interviewing and generally sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, taking literally 8,000 pages of notes, before finally sitting down to write In Cold Blood. Yeah, it’s one of the highest-selling true crime books in the history of publishing, and yeah, it’s bloody brilliant – but still. What an overachiever.

(His hard work didn’t exactly pay off as far as he was concerned. Despite an absolute avalanche of critical acclaim, Capote was reportedly hugely bummed that it never won a Pulitzer. He was desperate to top his buddy Harper Lee, who won the Pulitzer for To Kill A Mockingbird. Male egos, I tell ya!)

So, here’s the deal: Capote reads a piddly piece in The New Yorker about a well-liked Kansas family getting merked in this weirdly motiveless and clueless crime. He figures that’s a good enough basis on which to pack up and ship off to a country town you’ve never heard of – dragging Harper Lee with him, no less! – and figure out what the fuck went down.




He sets the story up in a really eerie way, with super-intimate descriptions of the lives of both the victims and the perps. You learn everything about their love lives and their pets and their phobias and how often they change their underpants. The story’s not a “whodunit” per se, in the sense that you know who dun it right from the outset – he weaves the stories of the killers and the victims together, and tells them side-by-side. You also kinda figure that the bad guys must get caught eventually (because it says so on the back of the book). I guess it’s more a “whydunit” (I call the trademark on that): why this family? How did they become the targets? What did the killers get out of it? Was it worth six lives?

You’d think the arrest would be the climax, but that comes in out of the blue only two-thirds of the way in. You get to watch the bad guys suffer through the prisoner’s dilemma, and finally divulge all of the gory details (tl;dr summary: they rocked up expecting to find a safe with ten grand inside, got pissed off when they couldn’t find it, argued about whether to rape the daughter, then neutralised all the witnesses by blowing their faces off with a shotgun, they scored about forty bucks for their trouble). Capote follows their imprisonment, their trial, their endless appeals and – ultimately – their executions.

You’ll really get out what you put in with In Cold Blood. It can be read as a conservative defence of capital punishment (taking the bad guys’ eyes, just like Jesus would do), or as a scathing leftie indictment of the U.S. incarceration system (every single criminal character is a recidivist of some sort, having left jail only to return a short time later). In that regard, it’s really artfully done. Unsurprisingly, though, you do kinda have to take off your journalistic-integrity hat. It doesn’t read anything like a non-fiction book: it reads as a novel. So, inevitably, there are endless questions as to its veracity, and I don’t think there can be any doubt that Capote was pretty liberal with the ol’ creative license.

I would wholeheartedly recommend In Cold Blood (as long as you’re not a kill-joy that takes things too seriously and gets mad when Capote takes some liberties with the truth). I’ll definitely read it again. Chilling, but fascinating!

My favourite Amazon reviews of In Cold Blood:

  • “It was a cold dud.” – Old Crow
  • “If you’ve already read it, you know how good it is. If you haven’t, I hate you for still getting to read it for the first time.” – Clint Pross
  • “Despite the fact that I bought this on the recommendation of a stupid jerk who acted like I hung the moon until one day he suddenly broke up with me the day after I’d been awake all night in the ER with a sick kid… OVER THE PHONE, NO LESS… WTF?!… it’s a really good book. You can’t blame Capote that there are terrible humans in the world, even if he did write about them really well. Maybe my boyfriend recommending a book about a gruesome family execution should have tipped me off. I dunno. You live, you learn. But yeah, good book.” – Jess

 

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8 Comments

  1. Capote was DEFINITELY an interesting guy! Lol! Great review. And great pics on your fabourite Amazon reviews!!… POOR JESS!! Lmao! At least he got on the phone and didn’t break up with her through Facebook. Ha ha! … What a world… 😂

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 13, 2018 at 12:48 PM

      Hahahaha cheers! I must say, I feel for Jess, but her storytelling talent in the Amazon comments section of all places… I still literally laugh out loud every time I look at it :’)

  2. This was a fantastic review. So entertaining and funny! You should definitely trademark whydunit. I loved the Amazon review section.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 13, 2018 at 2:48 PM

      Hahahaha cheers, Jane! Just you wait, in a few years, “whydunits” will be all the rage 😉

  3. I read this a long time ago. I also remember it seeming to be in the style of fiction as opposed to non fiction. I have read very little true crime books but this one seemed so original.

    I love your “favorite reviews” section.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 14, 2018 at 11:40 AM

      Yes, it very much read like a novel, which I really enjoyed – kind of like the difference between watching a documentary and a film based on a true story. I love the Amazon reviews too, looking through them is my favourite part of pulling these posts together 😀 thanks for reading, Brian!

  4. Liberties with the truth? Probably the role of fiction. ALthough the way you describe him I’d probably hate everything that he had to say…

    • ShereeKUWTP

      March 15, 2018 at 4:18 PM

      Hahaha I don’t take issue with Capote’s liberties, in my mind it was in the name of storytelling, which is what it’s all about in the end. 🙂

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