Dave pulled up in his 1949 Chevrolet sedan and Percy got in, laying his guitar and a battered copy of In Cold Blood (1966) by Truman Capote on the back seat, next to a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun.
‘What’s that?’ Dave asked.
‘Just a book I’ve been reading,’ said Percy, and settled back into his seat for the long drive to follow. Although he didn’t tell Dave, he had found In Cold Blood an enjoyable book, and worthy of its status as a modern classic. The original non-fiction novel analyses events surrounding the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, following the detectives responsible for finding the killers, and also the killers themselves and their attempts to evade the law.
Percy watched the scenery of Kansas flashing by in the night, reminding him of Capote’s description of Holcomb, the community, and the land around it. In clear, accessible prose Capote creates a strong sense of place. Kansas is more than just a backdrop for the crime and the events of the novel; when we hear the shotgun ring out in the night, or witness the devastation brought to bear upon the community, it enhances the sense of loss and tragedy that flows through the novel. Capote’s prose style makes it seems as though the story tells itself, though of course this is a testament to his skill.
Capote also succeeds in bringing to life the characters, especially through the minutiae of character that mean the reader can really imagine the personalities behind the crime, at least as Capote saw them. The complex, psychotic figure of Perry Smith in particular leaves a lasting impression. Though in the end, Percy thought as he leant back in the seat, Capote’s description of him was less sympathetic than the film suggests.
Percy sighed and closed his eyes. He was satisfied he had read one of the great tragic novels of the twentieth century.