In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s non-fictional novel on the ghastly murder of the Cutter family in 1959, also happens to be the book that launched “new journalism”. On November 15, 1959, Richard (Dick) Hickock and Perry Smith, two ex-convicts murdered Herbert Smith, an influential and widely respected small town farmer of Kansas, his wife Bonnie, who was depressive, their daughter 16-year-old Nancy, and son 15-year-old Kenyon.
The duo had believed that the rich farmer owned a safe, which they would rob. However, the information provided to them by a fellow convict at the Kansas State Prison turned out to be wrong. Perry later told Capote that he thought that his victim Herb was a nice gentleman and was soft spoken. “I thought so until I cut his throat,” Perry recalled.
Capote begins his story a couple of days before the murders. Using extensive interviews with the townsfolk, he puts together the last day of the family in astonishing detail. Capote’s research is exhaustive and overwhelming. In the film in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Capote, the writer is shown as boasting of an over 90 per cent recall. This means that he can recall over 90 per cent of whatever is told to him in the exact words as spoken to him.
In the late 90s, Modern Library put together a list of great fictional and non-fictional works. In Cold Blood is featured in that list. I have been wanting to read the book ever since. Now I have both read the book (about 10 pages are left) and seen two movies connected to book: In Cold Blood, a black and white film, and Capote.
If you are a journalist or love creativity of any sort, this book is a must read for you.
(The other great exponent of new journalism was Tom Wolfe. It seems a crime not to mention his name in a post about In Cold Blood)