In Cold Blood
The chilling true crime 'non-fiction novel' that made Truman Capote's name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative published in Penguin Modern Classics.
Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas…
Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. (learn more)
Why read it?
10 authors picked In Cold Blood as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?
The grandfather of all true-crime-based fiction, this one skews close to the actual facts. It’s the terrifying story of the brutal murders of the Clutter family in Kansas by misfit criminals. Its chilling narrative remains with me to this day, largely because of how well Capote describes the killings in the deep of night in what should have been a safe space—the family home.
Always on the Top 100 Lists of Best Books Ever, Capote's masterpiece tells the story of the senseless, brutal killing of a rural Kansas farming family in 1959. It is beautifully written from start to finish, and in a somewhat understated way. He defines his book as a “nonfiction novel,” employing fictional storytelling devices based on actual facts of the murder investigation and the various colorful town characters. Gripping and unrelentingly emotional, this book will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Truman Capote’s groundbreaking “non-fiction novel” tells the story of the brutal 1959 murders of the Clutters, a farm family in Holcomb, Kansas, by two punk sociopaths, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. The murders are transformed by his artistry—stark Hemingwayesque prose, seemingly detached but deeply humane—into an existential tragedy played out on the American prairie. It is, I think, the only indisputable literary masterpiece in the genre it inspired. Not incidentally, Richard Brooks’s motion picture version from 1967 is a worthy companion piece.
The seminal true crime book, Capote’s self-proclaimed “nonfiction novel” was my first true crime read, and one I return to again and again. Capote used the elements of fiction to craft a compelling story about a horrific true crime. Every true crime fan should read this book. (Bonus: for new theories of the case, see Gary McAvoy’s recent book, And Every Word is True).
There’s a reason why In Cold Blood appears on so many favourite lists six decades after it was published. It’s a brilliant, genre-smashing book that demonstrates just how true crime should be written. Capote tells the story from several perspectives. He dives into the lives of the victims and even forces us to feel empathy for their murderers. And, even though we know what happens—it’s true crime after all—it doesn’t matter, Capote builds suspense in every chapter.
I hesitated to include this book, as it's already mentioned under a couple of other headings. But, In Cold Blood is too good to leave out. Capote masterfully weaves together this true story of two murderers and their four victims –– members of a family in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959. Then he continues his investigation through the capture, trial, and execution of the killers. The book truly is a combination of multiple murders and mid-twentieth-century history. Written on the cusp of a new genre of journalism, In Cold Blood has been an inspiration to other writers for decades.
It was the first book to show you how the justice system works, from the investigation, arrests, trial, and executions of the killers. It gave the readers the opportunity to see how each part of the justice system worked through the eyes of not only the victim’s families, but even the criminals that were involved in the case. This book became the blueprint for what would become the true crime non-fiction category of books.
The 1965 title set the standard for all true crime books to come. It examines the senseless murder of a family of four in western Kansas in 1959. Capote captures the inner life of the killer, Perry Smith, in all its torment and tragedy. The subject of other books and several movies, In Cold Blood continues to fascinate contemporary audiences with its penetration of the mind and emotions of a mass killer.
Our community of 6,000+ authors has personally recommended 10 books like In Cold Blood.