Tuesday, 2 November 2010

IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote

Capote was inspired to write this book by a 300 word article in the New York Times, which began: "Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15 [1959] (UPI) -- A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged ... There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut." (Thanks Salon)

He went down to Holcomb, with his childhood friend (bizarrely: Harper Lee) to interview people, and spent the next six years working on a detailed account of the crime. It is widely credited as the first non-fiction novel, and as more or less inventing the true crime genre. This genre is disgustingly large and healthy now, of course, so the book seems a good deal less radical and remarkable now than it did then.

It's still however a gripping little story, with well drawn and compelling characters. What most appealed to me was the long sections of direct quotes. It was fascinating to see how ordinary people spoke in 1959. It's sort of insanely quaint. They all sound like they're in an Arthur Miller play all the time.

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