Book Reviews

Book Review: In Cold Blood

This is a book by Truman Capote based on true events that occurred between 1959 and 1965. It is about the senseless murders of 4 members of the Clutter family in the village of Holcomb, an almost unknown area in western Kansas back then. The book is not a who-done-it. Nor is it about whether or not the murderers will get away with the crime. Rather, it takes us through the entire journey — with the murderers from the start of the crime through to their escape and their subsequent capture and time in jail until they are hung; with the detective incharge of the case and his thoughts and views about the crime and the criminals; the Clutter family and of course, the comments and views of the people of Holcomb. Capote has captured these through his interviews and observations and presented it in the form of a novel.
The book starts off a tad slow and it can be a bit boring for some readers trying to get through the basics about the village, the setting and the Clutter family as well as the introduction to the murderers. However, once the killings occur, the book definitely picks up pace. The murders are described in all their gory details — the slain bodies of Mr Clutter, Mrs Clutter and two of their children, Nancy (aged 16) and Kenyon (aged 15), by a couple of convicts out on parole: Perry Smith and Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock. All for a measly 40-50 dollars and a couple of household articles.
The people of Holcomb are obviously shocked at the brutality. They go from being people who were quite to happy to keep their doors unlocked, to changing locks and being suspicious of one another. Capote follows Detective Dewey and the rest of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in their journey to finding the answer. In catching the culprits responsible for this cold-blooded killing. Once Perry and Dick are caught, we are given a lot more insight into their pasts and their lives. To the point where there is some sympathy evoked for the murderers. In fact, it appears that the even those convicting the murderers feel sorry for Perry.
Both Perry and Dick have had different childhoods. Perry was neglected by his parents, had an alcoholic mother, was in an orphanage for a while where he was abused physically and emotionally — all resulting in him not trusting the world and losing out on a childhood and education. He yearns to be someone who he is not. He yearns to learn even in adulthood. Even as a thief and a murderer. He considers other criminals as being lower and less intelligent than him.
Dick, on the other hand, had a reasonable childhood. Loving parents and siblings. Good at studies and sport. The only thing he lacked was money. The family were poor and couldn’t afford to send Dick to go on to college resulting in him taking on a job he didn’t want, meeting with an accident, getting married a couple of times, having kids with each wife and engaging in risky behaviour. And finally meeting Perry in jail.
I thought the book presented several questions.
    • How important is education and can it make a difference in terms of the path you take? Maybe not, given that another inmate at the jail introduced to us towards the very is an educated young man from a well-to-do family.
    • Are cold-blooded murderers born evil or is it a result of their circumstances? The nature versus nurture debate. Unsure. After all, whilst Perry was neglected and abused and had severe attachment problems and possible core beliefs/schema of defectiveness, there are other individuals out there who undergo exactly what Perry went through and some probably worse and not all of them end up becoming cold-blooded killers?
    • Did Perry and Dick actually get a fair trial? In fact, can anyone in their situation ever be given a fair trial?
    • Perry’s sexuality is questionable. Remember, the book is set in a time where homosexuality was considered a disorder. Whilst nothing is explicitly said about his sexual preferences, one cannot help but wonder whether he was struggling with issues around his sexuality and therefore to prove himself to be a “masculine man” to Dick, engaged in a murder he otherwise may not have.
    • Could the head injury obtained by Dick in the accident have in fact altered his behaviour? There were no brain imaging scans conducted…so we will never know.
I must say, the book appealed to the psychologist in me. Not because I work with criminals. But all the childhood aspects definitely did. More so with Perry, I found myself questioning his core beliefs and how they would have developed. His core beliefs are likely to have developed based on his childhood experiences. And it is with these core beliefs, that he, in turn, viewed himself and the world around. As being an unjust place. A place where no one cared about him. And why should they when he was worthless in his own eyes? Could something have changed if there had been at least one caregiver that had shown him what it was like to love someone? If there was one caregiver that was consistent in their behaviour and feelings towards him? Could none of this have occurred?
I guess we will never know.
I would highly recommend this book if you like true crime. And if you are willing to be a bit patient initially.My rating:

Until next time,
***This has been cross-posted at Bond with Books***

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  • Tasha
    5 January 2010 at 6:23 am

    Wow! This is a great review. I’m so glad I found you. Now I can read your reviews to search for books I want to read in my little precious spare time.

  • Titaxy
    5 January 2010 at 11:08 am


  • Nu
    5 January 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Good one here PB ! And I liked the last liner… “if you are ready to be patient initially” šŸ™‚

  • Psych Babbler
    6 January 2010 at 2:14 am

    Hey Tasha, Welcome to our blog! Do keep visiting! And let us know how you liked the books after reading them. šŸ™‚

  • Psych Babbler
    6 January 2010 at 2:15 am

    Hehe šŸ˜€ It did drag a bit initially… šŸ˜›

  • Smitha
    11 January 2010 at 1:51 pm

    ok – this one I haven’t read. Does look my cup of tea though. Will definitely pick it up.

    Am going to come back tomorrow and read the rest of your reviews! I had no idea that you had a book blog! Dumb me! Shouls have checked it out earlier!

  • Psych Babbler
    12 January 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Do let us know your thoughts after reading the book. By the way, it is quite cheap if you purchase it as the Penguin Classic. It was $10 AUD.

  • Smitha
    14 January 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Oh that is cheap! I normally pick up books from the lib – it is pretty well stocked and buy only when I am in India – I hate having to leave my books behind when I shift countries šŸ™

  • Psych Babbler
    16 January 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Ah…I know that feeling! I have so many books back in India right from childhood days (Enid Blytons!!) and wanted to bring them back with me last year…but my bags were over the limit even without them! šŸ™ So going to have to wait. I prefer buying books…even though they are more expensive here than the US, UK or India…I don’t think I can wait long enough…

  • Smitha
    18 January 2010 at 11:05 am

    Oh me too- Have collections right from fairy tales šŸ™‚ I still buy when I am in India and here I pick up from libraries. The libs here are quite good- they let me take 20 books at a time šŸ™‚ So I get enough and more to read šŸ™‚

  • Aliceaxgraria
    22 May 2010 at 9:41 am

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  • Psych Babbler
    24 May 2010 at 5:54 am

    Thanks! Do keep visiting… šŸ™‚