In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s masterpiece of literary non-fiction, recounts the impact and investigation into one of contemporary America’s most gruesome crimes, the shooting of four members of the Clutter family in 1959 rural Kansas.
What convinced the notorious gadfly, and celebrated writer of Breakfast at Tiffany to leave New York for the village of Holcomb, with its two “apartment houses,” two filling stations, one café, and no passenger trains? It was a small newspaper report, and instinct, and with these, and the company of his research assistant Harper Lee, he spent eight years writing and researching what is acknowledged as the “best documentary of an American crime ever written.” There have too many since—both crimes and writings on them—but Capote’s work is memorable not for its subject matter, which has long lost its ability to shock, but for the spectacular language, at once richly descriptive, stark, surefooted; every sentence conjuring a Technicolor image.
In Cold Blood allowed Capote to realise his every wish—more fame, over $2 million in advance royalties, and acknowledgment as a pioneer of a genre. One of the indirect consequences of this success however, wasn’t as sweet. Attempting to extend this format to a series of vignettes about the rich New York social circle in which he moved, Capote accepted a significant advance for, and began writing Answered Prayers. Publication of a few chapters in Esquire in 1975 created such a backlash from his acquaintances, that he fell into depression, and a downward spiral of substance abuse, leaving the book unfinished at his time of his death.