This book is a peculiarity. At once a compelling novel-style piece of work, yet also a minutely detailed reconstruction of the murders of four members of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas.
I was familiar with this book, as well as its subject, but had held off from reading it for years. I think I had built it up in my mind to be much gorier than it was, in actuality. While certainly some details were difficult, Capote’s style manages to arouse, if not empathy and compassion for the two men convicted of the crime, at least a gnawing need to get to the root of “Why?”.
Some details are tricky to believe. Conversations, particularly between Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, were so meticulous in their depth and detail I wonder how this was fully possible and/or realistic.
“Despite the book’s billing as a factual “True Crime” account, critics have challenged the authenticity of the book, arguing that Capote changed facts to suit his story, added scenes which never occurred, and re-created dialogue. Capote relied entirely on memorization when talking to subjects in the book, and did not use a tape recorder or take any written notes; this alone may have contributed to several inaccuracies in the book.”
And some details, while mentioned several times, are never answered. For example, on the day of her murder Nancy Clutter kept smelling cigarette smoke. The source of the odour was never discovered by Nancy, nor divulged in the book. Her father, Herb Clutter, was a staunch Methodist and disapproved of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. He wouldn’t hire any worker who imbibe and would dismiss any employee caught doing so. Employees had to sign an agreement of abstinence. Also, Nancy Clutter observed her father had been out of sorts for the three weeks leading up to the murders. Again, neither why Nancy suspected something was wrong nor any further validity of the observation were ever explained to the reader.
When Capote learned of the quadruple murder, before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. He was accompanied by his childhood friend and fellow author, Harper Lee, and together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book. It is considered the original non-fiction novel.
Overall, the study of the lives and personalities of Smith and Hickock are compelling studies and the specific slice of the small town and people of the American Mid-West, from 1959 to 1965, were fleshed out so fully.