In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s bestselling non-fiction novel, describes the 1959 murder of a wealthy farmer and his family, which terrorized Kansas; the investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation; the arrest six weeks later of two parolees, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith; and the lives and deaths of Hickock and Smith. Smith was a ne’er-do-well, brought up by footloose alcoholic parents, with two siblings dead of suicide, while Hickock had been brought up in a good home.
Capote “recreated” the events of the Clutter murder and, incidentally, helped create the genre of true crime. I put recreated in quotes because there’s considerable doubt about the veracity of some events he describes. Nevertheless, it’s a cogent and lucid account. The Philip Seymour Hoffman movie of Capote, which prompted me to read In Cold Blood, focuses on Capote and his writing of the book and wooing of Smith. In the book itself, Capote is a distant authorial voice.
Fifty years later, the book seems a little quaint and dated, but it holds up well.