Skip to Main Content

Senior: 11 & 12: Unit 4: In Cold Blood

About the Book

From: Recognizing the Art of Nonfiction Literary Excellence in True Crime, World Literature Today, 2012.

The Everest of true crime writing is Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1966). It was the primary reason that nonfiction was allowed to compete for the Hammett literary award. The brilliance of its portrayal of murderers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock is still stunning. Despite the monstrous brutality of the murder of the Clutter family, the insights into the character of the killers allow a reader to understand them as deeply damaged human beings, creating the profoundly unsettling feeling that real crime elicits. The Clutters are slaughtered for no reason. The long process of hunting down the killers, convicting, and hanging them cannot undo the crime and provides little comfort. Fiction usually achieves a feeling of resolution. It is what allows most readers to enjoy a good crime novel despite the often-hideous violence and cruelty at its core. Hanging a man is a cruel thing to do, even if what he did to deserve it is even crueler. No book has ever captured these disturbing feelings as well as 'In Cold Blood'. Purists accuse Capote of taking liberties with some of the facts, but few readers do more than shrug at this. An absolute adherence to the truth is the hobgoblin of writers who are either unaware of how they inevitably reshape the facts or who cannot see the story for the trees. Though we expect a true crime writer to be fairly accurate, we also expect the writer to select, shape, and interpret the material so that it gives us what we expect from a good book. No book, no matter how attentive to accuracy, can replicate the peculiar details, odd coincidences, and utter disrespect for what satisfies us that is our world. There is a raggedy-ness on the edges of reality that has to be straightened to make an effective story. 

Websites and Articles

Literary Works: Truman Capote: Biography and Literary Works
New York Times: The story behind a nonfiction novel
St Mary's College: The Clutter Murders
NBC News: Kansas town still grieves 'In Cold Blood' deaths
The New Yorker: Capote's Co-Conspirators
LJ 'In Cold Blood'
The Guardian: In Cold Blood , half a century on
'In cold blood' by Truman Capote - A reflection (British Journal of Psychiatry)
In cold print: the genre Capote started (New York Times)
A study of genre in 'In Cold Blood' (Academia)
"The last to see them alive" - Panopticism, the supervisory gaze, and catharsis in Capote's 'In Cold Blood' (Studies in the Novel) 
Photography, Unconscious Optics, and Observation in Capote’s 'In Cold Blood'  (Arizona Quarterly - A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory)
True storytelling - Fiction and nonfiction in 'In Cold Blood' and 'The Executioner's Song' (University of Michigan: BA Honors Thesis)
'In Cold Blood' as influential creative nonfiction and the applicability of nonfiction in critical writing instruction (University of Iowa: English Masters thesis)
Journalism as artistic expression - The Critical Response to Truman Capote’s 'In Cold Blood' (Tulane University)
"The Last to See Them Alive" : Panopticism, the supervisory gaze, and catharsis in 'In Cold Blood' (Johns Hopkins University Press)
Truman Capote's contribution to the documentary-novel - The Game-Theoretic Dilemmas of 'In Cold Blood' (Southern Illinois University)
New doubts over facts in Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' - Documents originally held by the Kansas Bureau of Investigations suggest writer Truman Capote enhanced the truth in his famous non-fiction book (The Telegraph Online)
'In Cold Blood', the Expansion of Psychiatric Evidence, and the Corrective Power of True Crime (Law and Literature Journal)
'Psychological accidents': 'In Cold Blood' and ritual sacrifice (Midwest Quarterly)
Capote's Masterpiece 'In Cold Blood' Still Vivid at 50 (Newsweek)
Reflection on the book 'In Cold Blood' (British Journal of Psychiatry)


  Ebook: Truman Capote and the Legacy of 'In Cold Blood'

The author examines Capote and In Cold Blood from many perspectives, not only as the crowning achievement of Capote’s career, but also as a story in itself, focusing on Capote’s artfully composed text, his extravagant claims for it as reportage, and its larger status in American popular culture.

Voss argues that Capote’s publication of In Cold Blood in 1966 forever transcended his reputation as a first-rate stylist but second-rate writer of  “Southern gothic” fiction; that In Cold Blood actually is a gothic novel, a sophisticated culmination of Capote’s artistic development and interest in lurid regionalism, but one that nonetheless eclipsed him both personally and artistically. He also explores Capote’s famous claim that he created a genre called the “non-fiction novel,” and its status as a foundational work of “true crime” writing as practiced by authors ranging from Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer to James Ellroy, Joe McGinniss, and John Berendt.

Voss also examines Capote’s artful manipulation of the story’s facts and circumstances: his masking of crucial homoerotic elements to enhance its marketability; his need for the killers to remain alive long enough to get the story, and then his need for them to die so that he could complete it; and Capote’s style, his shaping of the narrative, and his selection of details–why it served him to include this and not that, and the effects of such choices―all despite confident declarations that “every word is true.”

Though it’s been nearly 50 years since the Clutter murders and far more gruesome crimes have been documented, In Cold Blood continues to resonate deeply in popular culture. Beyond questions of artistic selection and claims of truth, beyond questions about capital punishment and Capote’s own post-publication dissolution, In Cold Blood’s ongoing relevance stems, argues Voss, from its unmatched role as a touchstone for enduring issues of truth, exploitation, victimization, and the power of narrative.

Library Print Books - Come and borrow!

In Cold Blood Infographic

Course Hero Infographic

Character Map - In Cold Blood (Course Hero)