Review of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

BPS Bookclub March 2022


Well. What a book for discussion. What an author. Full of controversy and ‘grey areas’ of morality and opinion.  According to my (fairly diligent this time) scoresheet, 78% of us gave this a rating of 4/5 or higher, and 27% were 4.5 or 5/5. The 22% who rated it as 3.5 or less were those who felt its grisly subject matter just a bit too voyeuristic and disturbing to overlook in favour of the interesting stuff.

What we learned about Truman Capote, the eccentric and outspoken author, just ramps this debate up into more ‘dubious’ territory. In the 1960’s with this book, he created a new (and now very popular) genre of ‘true crime fiction’, but at what cost to victims and perpetrators? Was his account 100% faithful? Did he in fact prolong the whole case himself in order to generate a better ending for his novel?

Moving on to the characters – both good and evil – we kept wondering if Capote’s own bias changed the narrative. The Clutters seemed like the epitome of The American Dream family, but did he undermine this in some way? Was Nancy really ‘ too good to be true’?  Did Capote really have much less sympathy with this ‘perfect’ family?

Much of the book is taken up with Dick and Perry, not only stories about them from people who knew them, but large chunks of their own backstory, in their own words. We are left with a complex and arbitrary picture of them both, which even elicits sympathy in some readers, even though the men’s guilt is never in doubt.  His innate understanding of these characters (perhaps in some way because of his own childhood) delivers a psychological analysis that was ahead of its time.  There are also vignettes of so many other peripheral characters which, whilst they seem at times meandering and unnecessary, add a layer of detail and humanity to the entire novel.

The latter part of the novel as the men languish (or argue their innocence, in Dick’s case) in Death Row is another very interesting phase, albeit for some a bit tedious and technical (with thanks to our in house lawyers for some clarifications!) If we were ever taken in with the humanity, even humour, of Dick and Perry, their fellow inmates in Death Row remind us of just what heinous crimes they are all there for.

Overall the book is worthy of much admiration, controversies aside. Fantastically detailed descriptions of landscape, passages of journalistic pace, with a pervading sense of the ‘banality of evil’. A fascinating inverse structure with the ‘event’ told with deliberate slowness, up front, and a gradual unwinding of the story thereafter. Despite the outcome being known, it seems to grip the reader and leave us with a lot to ponder.



Side note : for those of you with an interest in Capote’s later life, when he befriended ( and insulted!) New York’s glitterati, there is a recent book called Swan Song, by Kelleigh Greenberg- Jephcott which fictionalises this story. It was longlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize and has been recommended by a couple of readers.

May 14, 2022 by Books Scissors

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