Our impending move informed the decision to read In Cold Blood. Though I won’t get very far with just two months left in the country, it seemed prudent to at least attempt to tackle the unread books on our shelves before carting them to our next home. At least it made more sense than buying a new book, or borrowing one from the library which has been closed until recently anyway due to the pandemic. So, bearing my initial nonchalance in mind, it is fortuitous that In Cold Blood would turn out to be a favourite, whose place among our books is no longer under scrutiny.
Capote sets the scene through a series of character descriptions that contrast the imminent victims with their killers. Lengthy, expressive passages often conclude abruptly with an explosively suggestive statement for dramatic effect. The narrative is organised in a way that delays the reveal of the murders, prolonging a reader’s immediate judgement of those responsible whilst holding them in suspense of the truth. As example, where a chapter ends with one soon-to-be-victim farewelling her boyfriend into the evening, the next chapter bypasses any nocturnal activities, moving quickly to the discovery of the bodies by an innocent neighbour on his regular church pickup. The latter half of the book follows a more conventional chronology, picking apart the improbability of such vile crimes being committed by seemingly sane, motivation-less perpetrators.
Based on true events that occurred in 1959, In Cold Blood is a brilliant meditation on accountability and consequence – how we determine right from wrong, and when that moral compass fails, how we separate a crime from a criminal’s personal background.
As a side note, check out the variation of covers over the years, many referencing the genre of crime and the characters of Hickock and Smith. My pick is the edition with an innocuous Kansas landscape, which seems closer to Capote’s intention for the book in exploring the banality with which the perpetrators perceive their own crimes.