I finished reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote for my book club meeting on Friday. It was as good as I remembered it being from my first reading. Inspired by a short 300-word article on the back pages of a newspaper, I think the New York Times, this “non-fiction novel” recounts the murder of four members of the Clutter family on a farm in Kansas in 1959, and the subsequent travels and eventual capture and trial of the two guilty men, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, men who met in prison and who planned the robbery and murder of the family members. The story itself is interesting, particularly the responses of the community members to the murders and the choices Dick and Perry make after they commit the crimes, as well as their attitudes and actions after they are convicted. The writing is superb as well, the sweeping descriptions of the farm and the family before the murders, and the descriptions of the townspeople, the murderers and their family members, and the court processes they encountered during their trial and imprisonment. Something I noted during my reading, and one of my book club members commented on immediately when we began discussing the book, was the fact that she did not despise Dick or Perry by the end of the book, and she felt she should have felt otherwise. That’s exactly how I felt, that I didn’t hate them, but sympathized with their situation and felt compassion for them, which I thought indicated that they had been portrayed fairly by Capote in his book. They came from difficult childhoods, especially Perry, and Dick had his own issues, but we felt that if they had never met and made this plan together, they may have remained alive, although they probably would have ended up doing time in jail over the course of their lives. Thinking about the legal system these days, their lawyers probably would have found a legal loophole and kept them off of death row - this is something we will never know. At the beginning of the meeting, one of my book club members, who has been ill recently and so didn’t have a chance to read this book, thought that she was familiar with the story and related what she thought was this story, where a famous lawyer set a legal precedent with his brilliant defense of the accused. In fact, the case she was thinking of was the Leopold and Loeb case, in I think the 1920s or 1930s, involving two brilliant university students who conspire to commit the perfect murder, and end up killing a neighbour boy. Clarence Darrow was the lawyer who defended them and kept them off death row, succeeding in securing a life sentence for each. If I recall correctly, one of the boys ended up having a significant positive influence on the prison where he was kept, by setting up a library and some education programs. If you are interested in reading about this fascinating true crime story, there is an excellent book written by Hal Higdon, Crime of the Century, which details these events. Getting back to Dick and Perry’s story, what I also found interesting in preparation for my meeting was the story surrounding the decision to write the book. I know almost nothing about Truman Capote, but in my search for information, I discovered that, as mentioned above, he was inspired to check out this incident by a small article on the back page of a newspaper. He researched for four years, with much help from his close childhood friend Harper Lee, and he was heavily involved in the making of the film, in I think 1967, of this story (not to be confused with the more recent film Capote which details the writing of In Cold Blood). Capote was disappointed that he did not receive the Pulitzer Prize for this book, but claimed that it was the first book in a new genre, the non-fiction novel, although it is believed that there were others in this genre written before this book. Incidentally, I was at the library yesterday and found the 1967 film on DVD, which I checked out and plan to watch sometime this week, although I may have already seen it. Anyway, this is a landmark title that should be read as an example of excellent true crime writing.
Speaking of crime writing, I read another title, this one fiction, involving multiple murders. Rather than “read”, perhaps I should use the term “inhaled”, as I finished this 400+ page novel in just two days. The novel is Watching You by Michael Robotham, and it was excellent. This new novel tells the story of Marnie Logan, a mother of two whose husband has been missing for over a year. She has the strange sensation of being watched or followed, but has no evidence of this. Her situation reaches a new level of desperation as she is contacted by Hennessey, the man to whom her husband owed a large sum of money in gambling debts, and she is forced to make payments to him using some unsavoury means. Suddenly people start dying around her, and Marnie is the prime suspect. She seeks help from clinical psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin, who tries to uncover her past and help her deal with her blackouts and missed periods of time. As he digs deeper, he encounters resistance, but manages to uncover more than he bargained for, as Marnie’s mysterious childhood emerges, and people continue to die in unusual circumstances. Robotham is a psychological thriller master, and this book does not disappoint. Complex yet believable, this novel kept me on the edge of my seat up to the very last sentence. Some of the usual characters are featured, ex-detective and friend Vincent Ruiz, O’Loughlin’s daughter Charlie, and of course Mr. Parkinson, O’Loughlin’s constant companion. If you enjoy psychological thrillers and are not already a Robotham fan, I highly recommend that you start reading his books right away; best to start with the first one, though, The Suspect, where all the characters are introduced. For all those existing fans, enjoy his new offering!
That’s all for today.
Bye for now…