Born in 1924, in New Orleans, Truman Capote was a novelist, scriptwriter and pioneer of New Journalism, an influential style of non-fiction writing incorporating literary techniques and a subjective viewpoint. After producing a series of acclaimed novels — Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948), The Grass Harp (1951) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) — Capote decided to try something different. He described In Cold Blood as a “non-fiction novel”: a blend of interviews and research with fictionalised scenes and dialogue.Capote wanted to understand why some people choose to kill.
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
The author spent six years researching and writing his book, aided by his friend Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird). His precise prose explores the lives and deaths of those impacted by a brutal multiple murder in the quiet, rural town of Holcomb, Kansas — an unlikely location for such an ugly crime.
“Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans – in fact, few Kansans – had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.”
Hasta una mañana de mediados de noviembre de 1959, pocos americanos —en realidad pocos habitantes de Kansas— habían oído hablar de Holcomb. Como la corriente del río, como los conductores que pasaban por la carretera, como los trenes amarillos que bajaban por los raíles de Santa Fe, el drama, los acontecimientos excepcionales nunca se habían detenido allí.
But drama does arrive, in the shape of two violent young criminals: Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Former prison cellmates. The men plan to rob a local farming family: Herbert and Bonnie Clutter and their two teenage children. Instead they leave behind four dead bodies and a community trying to comprehend what has happened. As a shocked café owner tells Capote, such a crime seems inconceivable:
“But who hated the Clutters? I never heard a word against them; they were about as popular as a family can be, and if something like this could happen to them, then who’s safe, I ask you? One old man sitting here that Sunday, he put his finger right on it, the reason nobody can sleep; he said, ‘All we’ve got out here are our friends. There isn’t anything else.’”
Pero ¿quién odiaba a los Clutter? Nunca oí una palabra contra ellos, todos los querían tanto como se puede querer a una familia, y si una cosa así ha podido sucederles precisamente a ellos, ¿quién puede estar tranquilo, me pregunto yo? Un viejo, sentado aquí aquel domingo, puso el dedo en la llaga, dio la explicación de por qué nadie puede dormir:
—Aquí solo tenemos a nuestros amigos. No hay nada más que eso.
The investigation is led by Al Dewey, a former local sheriff who knew the Clutters personally. But even with the help of a team of experienced detectives, Dewey remains baffled, with no clear motive or meaningful leads presenting themselves. For the former-sheriff, the investigation becomes an obsession:
“I’ve seen some bad things, I sure as hell have. But nothing as vicious as this. However long it takes, it may be the rest of my life, I’m going to know what happened in that house: the why and the who.”
Porque en mi vida he visto muchas cosas terribles y siniestras, lo juro, pero ninguna tan depravada como esta. Cueste lo que cueste, aunque tenga que dedicar a ello el resto de mi vida, sabré lo que ocurrió en aquella casa: el quién y el por qué.
Smith and Hickock head for Mexico with dreams of wealth and women. But their money soon runs out and their relationship becomes strained. The men have to live with the enormity of their crimes. While Hickock is shown to be an opportunist, Smith seems unsure of his own motive for the killings:
“ ‘I don’t know why...,’ he said, as if holding it to the light, as if angling it now here, now there. ‘It wasn’t... the fear of being identified. I was willing to take that gamble. And it wasn’t because of anything the Clutters did. They never hurt me. Like other people. Like people have all my life. Maybe it’s just that the Clutters were the ones who had to pay for it.’”
No sé por qué —dijo como llevándola a la luz y haciéndola girar entre sus dedos para contemplarla desde distin- tos ángulos— [...]. Pero no se trataba [...] del miedo de ser descubierto. Yo quería correr la aventura. Y no era por nada que los Clutter hubieran hecho. No me habían hecho nada. Como otros. Como otros que me han dado una perra vida. Quizá sólo fuera que los Clutter tuvieron que pagar por todos.
THE PRICE OF SUCCESS
A compelling, haunting, genre-defying story, In Cold Blood was a massive critical and commercial success and paved the way for a true crime boom that shows no sign of abating. The book, however, it took its toll on an exhausted Capote, who could not complete a novel after it. In Cold Blood has been adapted for screen three times, with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman winning an Oscar for his portrayal of the author in Capote.