2016 Reading Challenge: Book 18

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A mystery/thriller: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

I chose this classic by Capote because I love reading true crime stories; I know it’s a bit morbid, but I find it interesting to read about events that happened in real life. Particularly when, as in this case, the mystery is solved with such a degree of closure. In Capote’s hands, the facts of this case are woven together in a beautiful but haunting narrative that leaves the reader on the edge of their seat until the last page.

We begin with a portrait of the Clutter family unit. Father Herb Clutter, successful farmer and businessman, beloved by his community and held up as a paragon of Christian manliness. His wife, the eccentric Bonnie, suffering from depression and anxiety, but still protected and loved by her community. Their two youngest children, Nancy and Kenyon. In 1959, The Clutter family is well loved and respected in their rural Holcomb County community.

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Capote spends a decent amount of time describing the family dynamic, the community, and the setting before the heinous crime took place. You begin to really identify with the Clutter family and see why the community respects them so. Capote takes us up to the night of the crime, and then steps back to introduce us to the people who would soon be ending the idyllic family life of the Clutters.

Enter Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.

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Perry, on the left, and Dick, on the right, met in prison. Shortly after Dick is released, he finds Perry and brings him on the perfect con: another inmate had worked on the Clutter family farm years before. He claimed that Mr. Clutter kept a safe in the house with more than $10,000 cash. Dick proposed that the drive all the way to Kansas, rob and murder the Clutter family and any witnesses, then take the loot and run away to Mexico.

As Capote reveals in the next section of the book, these two men are polar opposites–Perry, from an abusive and neglectful childhood, Dick a successful high school athlete with dedicated and beloved parents–have one thing in common: a complete lack of empathy for other human beings. In cold blood, these two sociopaths planned and executed one of the most heinous crimes in American history.

Just as they planned, they drove the many miles to Kansas. They arrived at the Clutter home to find the entire family asleep in their beds. These cold blooded killers tied the family members up and placed them in different rooms. After a search of the entire home, they came to the realization that their prison acquaintance had misled them. There was no safe. As anyone in Holcomb would have told them, Herb Clutter was famous for never dealing in cash. He preferred the paper trail of checks. Therefore, these two got away with less than $50 cash. Perry Smith, in his testimony, even mentioned robbing young Nancy’s purse, which contained a silver dollar. It rolled under the desk and he remembered crawling on his hands and knees for a child’s coin.

And yet. These two men decided to go ahead and murder the Clutters anyway. They systematically went to each member of the family, held a gun a few inches from their faces, and shot them point blank range. They then quietly packed up and went about their business. The next morning, members of the community came to the Clutter home, alarmed that nobody had shown up for church. Nancy’s school friend found them, and the discovery shook up the community to its core. The rest of the book unfolds the aftermath of this crime on the community, the investigators of this horrific crime, and even the murderers. You systematically follow the investigation and watch as the entire crime is wrapped up in the end.

This is a truly remarkable read, not only because of Capote’s masterful authorship, but also because this crime is an important part of the history of American crime. It is also a fascinating study in the psychology of two of the most notorious criminals of all time. There are moral and political implications that resonate with Americans today.

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About alycemsustko

Reader, writer, catmom extraordinaire
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