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In Cold Blood: A True Crime Novel and Literary Masterpiece

Explore the gripping blend of true crime and fiction in our In Cold Blood summary. Dive into Truman Capote's masterful narrative that chronicles the chilling Clutter family murders and discover how this novel redefined the boundaries of storytelling.
by Chris Allmer | Jan 30 2024
In Cold Blood: That’s How You Tell Crime Stories

If you’re into both true crime and groundbreaking literature, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a game-changer that you can’t afford to miss. Published in 1966, this book didn’t just join the ranks of true crime literature; it revolutionized it. Here’s why: Capote didn’t settle for the standard approach.

He blended meticulous fact-finding with the narrative flair of fiction, creating the “nonfiction novel” genre. And guess what? It worked brilliantly.

In our In Cold Blood summary, you will learn more than just about the tragic murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. It’s a masterclass in storytelling that sets new standards for journalists and authors.

Capote’s approach was innovative: he dove deep into the facts but presented them with the drama and suspense of a novel — a narrative revolution.

Truman Capote and the Nonfiction Novel

Truman Capote was an American novelist, playwright, and actor, best known for his literary works that blended various genres. Born on September 30, 1924, in New Orleans, Capote rose to prominence in the mid-20th century as one of the most distinctive voices in American literature.

Capote spent six years researching the case and interviewing those involved, including the murderers themselves. 

Capote’s writing style was marked by its vivid narrative and elegant prose. He gained early fame with his novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, which was notable for its lyrical and sensitive portrayal of a young boy’s coming of age.

However, his most famous work is undoubtedly In Cold Blood, a book that established him as a major author and pioneered the “nonfiction novel” and true crime genre.

What is the Nonfiction Novel?

The nonfiction novel genre is a form of narrative that tells a true story using the techniques of fiction. This genre blurs the line between fact and fiction, employing novelistic techniques like detailed scene setting, extensive character development, and dramatic plot structures, all while maintaining factual accuracy.

Let’s now dive into the harrowing tale of the Clutter family tragedy and look at the facts.

The Clutter Family Murders Case: A Detailed Look

In Holcomb, Kansas, 1959, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, informed by a fellow prisoner about Herb Clutter’s supposed wealth and a hidden safe, meticulously planned a robbery upon their release from prison. However, upon breaking into the Clutter home, they discovered no such safe.

Frustrated, they brutally murdered the four family members present: Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie, and their children, Nancy and Kenyon.

The crime scene was a gruesome tableau, with each victim bound and killed with shotgun blasts.

Hickock and Smith, after the murders, embarked on a cross-country spree, writing fraudulent checks. Ultimately, their capture in Nevada was facilitated by the evidence compiled by KBI agent Alvin Dewey, corroborated by a fellow prisoner’s testimony.

During their trial in Finney County District Court, both Hickock and Smith were found guilty and sentenced to death. They spent five years on death row before being executed by hanging in 1965 at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Blinkist’s In Cold Blood

Truman Capote’s approach to writing In Cold Blood was groundbreaking and set a new standard in literary journalism. His method combined extensive research, deep psychological insight, and novelistic storytelling techniques to create a vivid and immersive narrative.

Here’s a breakdown of our summary and how Capote wrote the book:

  1. Immersive Research: 

Capote’s first step was to immerse himself in the story. He traveled to Holcomb, Kansas, shortly after the Clutter family murders in 1959.

Accompanied by his friend and fellow author Harper Lee, he spent considerable time there, conducting hundreds of interviews with people connected to the case, including the residents of Holcomb, and eventually the murderers themselves, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith.

  1. Empathetic Interviews: 

Capote’s interviews were thorough and empathetic. He had a unique ability to get people to open up, which allowed him to gather detailed accounts and a wide range of perspectives.

His conversations with Hickock and Smith, in particular, were integral to the book, as they provided insight into the killers’ backgrounds and motivations.

  1. Capotes Writing Style: 

Capote used the techniques of fiction writing to craft his non-fiction narrative. This included detailed character development, direct dialogue, scene setting, and a focus on narrative arc and tension.

While maintaining factual accuracy, he wove the events into a story format, creating a narrative that read like a novel.

  1. The Impact on the True Crime Genre:

The result of Capote’s innovative approach to storytelling was a book that transcended traditional true crime and journalism. In Cold Blood is often credited with being the first nonfiction novel, and it had a significant impact on both the true crime genre and nonfiction as a whole.

Now get ready to unlock the secrets of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood in a mere 19 minutes with Blinkist! We’ve expertly condensed the core elements of Capote’s captivating bestseller, giving you the essence of his narrative prowess.

Plus, with our audio option, you can delve into the heart of the Clutter family murders even on your daily commute or during a quick break. Click here and let Blinkist be your guide to the heart of this true crime classic:

If the chilling story of In Cold Blood has piqued your interest in true crime, you’ll definitely want to explore more. Check out our book collection Blinks for True Crime Fans.

This selection dives into some of the most notorious and intriguing crimes in history, from Jeffrey Epstein’s sex crimes to the O. J. Simpson murder case. 

Get ready to uncover the dark minds of mass murderers, the history of serial killers, and America’s complex ties with organized crime.


And if you are really into fiction and drama, don’t stop at our In Cold Blood review and dive deeper into a world of knowledge with Blinkist’s Top 100 Most Popular Nonfiction Books. Whether you’re into self-improvement, history, science, or more true-crime stories, we’ve got what you need.

The “In Cold Blood” Review and Our Conclusion

In wrapping up this deep dive into Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, we’ve ventured through the intricate layers of a story that redefined true crime and literary journalism. Capote’s masterful blend of detailed research, empathetic interviews, and novelistic flair not only brought the tragic tale of the Clutter family to life but also set new benchmarks in storytelling.

Now, you don’t have to spend hours to experience this literary masterpiece. With Blinkist, you can access the crux of our In Cold Blood summary in just 19 minutes, which is perfect for your busy schedule.

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