Review of In Cold Blood

by / 2 Comments / 1219 View / June 19, 2014

One sentence to describe the book:  An investigative account of a mass-murder—examined in different perspectives—that left my mouth wide open even after I closed the book.

My friend and mentor Evan recommended In Cold Blood last April, saying that it is one of his favorite books next to The East of Eden and The Brothers Karamazov.  Trusting his judgement, I went to the nearby Barnes and Noble in search of the book last April when I stopped by New York.  After glancing at the blurb, particularly the statement about “the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial and execution of the killers,” I felt my inner “spoiler” alarm explode.  As far as the (impatient) reader is concerned, there is a murder, there is more than one killer, and there is an execution.  It’s straightforward, but it says too much.  Probably going to be one of those super predictable goose chases, right?

An alternate book cover for In Cold Blood inspired by the movie adaption.

An alternate book cover for In Cold Blood inspired by the movie adaption.

Comprised of approximately 340 pages, In Cold Blood has managed to top my list of “Books I’ve Completed In Less Than Five Days.”  Right from the start, it introduces the victims and the murderers.  However, the voice isn’t emotive, for the purpose isn’t to sympathize with one or the other.  Instead, the third-person voice distances the narrator from the chain of events, so as to give an unbiased account of the murder in the form of a narrative.  Thus, the reader is granted access to different characters, different psychologies, and different perspectives of the murder and its outcome.

Although it does not contain as much fancy imagery as is often seen in fiction, the book still “works” because of its structure.  Instead of chapters, there are instead major sections that separate the sequence of events in its chronological order—before, during, and after.  Within each of these sections, the numerous incidents that occur in the particular time frame of the investigation are further broken up into, well, “unofficial chapters” so to speak.  What I like about this structure is that the story is told in a cohesive manner, which can bring the reader on a journey with the different characters.  The aforementioned “unofficial chapters” also correlate to this logic, as each sequence can illustrate the events that might have happened simultaneously, particularly how the story-arcs of the criminals and the citizens intertwine.  When this first happened, I was initially confused with the sudden introduction of the men named Perry and Dick, who were seemingly irrelevant to the Clutter family in the previous part.  However, as the conversations became clear and the psychologies of the characters developed throughout each part, the logic is elucidated.  As a result, the entire tale does not feel completely one-sided.  Here, we are telling the story in the eyes of a seemingly omnipresent bystander.  The reader comes to understand each situation, which ultimately ties in to the conclusion of where the sympathies lie—a decision not made for them in the writing.  In other words, the structure of In Cold Blood is a guiding force for the reader to comprehend the characters in terms of what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, all of which contribute to his or her personal verdict for the masterminds at hand.

Of course, In Cold Blood has its flaws, notably its accuracy.  According to my (hasty) research—that was, indeed, a Magic School Bus reference—there were some instances that were fabricated.  (I will not specify what they are; it’s more the reason to pick it up and read it!)  However, I’ve had to bear in mind that the purpose of Capote’s writing In Cold Blood is not to ask questions regarding the nature of the crime, because that is already answered early in the book; instead, the purpose is to entertain the audience by providing a panorama of the entire event through a narrative.  Thus, although some moments do seem to be forcibly dramatized, and therefore somewhat melodramatic, it contributes to the overall flow of the story. Regardless of this aforementioned false data, those involved in the investigation have still verified that the remaining pieces of information are by-and-large accurate, so In Cold Blood is not a tall tale in its entirety.

Overall, it is a worthwhile read, from its structure to its accessible writing style to some of its vivid imagery, which all culminates into an analytical yet artistic piece of non-fiction.