Growing up, I heard about the book In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and wondered about the “celebrity“ that surrounded Capote. To me, he seemed nothing more than an odd little man that wrote about a murder. I just always thought it weird that he was so famous from this book. I had seen a television movie about the incident that inspired the book and again was struck that it didn’t seem that media-worthy… all this time having never read the book. That ended recently.

It is in putting this book in context with when it was written (1966) that I can see how it became a sensation. This was ostensibly the first true crime novel. There were others before, but none that had reached the mainstream. It came out at a time when this type of book was shocking. Even though these books are now literally a dime a dozen, In Cold Blood was groundbreaking back then.

Capote took “creative license” with the facts – including some key elements of the case. He seems also to have a decidedly liberal bias in electing which parts of the trial to include and even saying what key witnesses “would have said if allowed.” Those sections are where his politics come through.

After finishing the book, I discovered one interesting fact in my research. Capote took six years to write the book and was assisted by his friend, Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird.)

If the book came out now, I don’t think it would even get notices, much less gain the notoriety it garnered in the 60’s. It came out at a time when gore wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. The teasing of the promise of gore throughout seems like a charlatan’s parlor trick.  ICB is long on prose, imagination and stage setting and short on actual good writing.  Had it not led the way, it wouldn’t be anything more than a footnote in the history of tire crime novels. Timing can be everything sometimes.

by Chris Doelle

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