In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

In-cold-blood by Truman Capote, book reviewLast year I was given a list of four ‘must-read’ books by a friend, David Milnes, who is an English teacher and a novelist.

  1. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  2. Fiesta or The Sun Also Rises, by Hemingway
  3. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
  4. Middlemarch, by George Eliot

I ordered In Cold Blood from my local library. When it arrived, I was dismayed by the sheer size of the book. My dismay was quickly followed by relief – when I realised I had ordered the Large Print edition.

What I liked about the book:
– The slow build of the story – which is a true crime story, not a fiction – in which we come to care about the murder victims as human beings.
– The roundness of the characters, including the murdered family and their cold-hearted killers.
– The description of the aftermath and the un-sentimental portrayal of ordinary people in a small town, trying to come to terms with the tragedy.
– The remaining ambivalence about exactly what happened and who killed who (real life is never tidy).
– The subsequent pointless road-journey of the killers and the sparse trail of clues they leave behind.
– The methodical, dogged, obsessive pursuit of the evidence by the detectives involved.

What I didn’t like about the book: I think the book lost a bit of steam during the final section. There was a long period when the killers were on death row and, I have to confess, I didn’t really care much about what happened to them at this stage. There were some other death row inmates introduced – again, with no real sense that they were important to the story. More importantly, the author seemed to draw back and narrated the final few years with a detachment that was in contrast to the close immediacy of the earlier text.

A minor quibble, and this may have been a product of the Large Text version I was reading, but the chapters seemed unduly long. I like to finish a reading session at the end of a chapter and there was little chance of doing that with this particular book – but that is a tiny thing to criticise in a great book.

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