The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.”
Almost two weeks ago now, I had the opportunity to travel out to a small town called Holcomb where my dad currently works. The town, or village if you will, is a quaint little place situated just outside of a “bigger” town called Garden City (though I am told that those in the area refer to the city simply as “Garden.”) The town has a great school, a peaceful atmosphere, and even a Subway. Of course, while I was down there, I was shown what inhabitants refer to as “the Clutter House” – that is, the house in which Herb Clutter, his wife, and his daughter and son were brutally murdered in 1959. I was also given a book titled In Cold Blood, and though I did bring homework to work on, I found myself reading the story of what happened over 50 years ago (almost to the day) less than a mile from where I was sitting.
The novel In cold Blood was written by Truman Capote and presents a new type of fiction known as the nonfiction novel. Capote did extensive research beginning in November of ‘59 when the murder happened and finally publishing the book in 1965 after the murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, were finally hanged (spoiler!). The book is divided into four sections though each section has obvious breaks between settings making for a very easy and enjoyable read.
Many may see the book as I did before reading it as a rather boring read, like reading a history book. I could not disagree more after a go through. Capote does a fabulous job of keeping the reader’s attention throughout giving very descriptive accounts of what happened (all based on testimony of course). In many ways, just reading a book about Kansas was very satisfying. Perhaps the greatest thing was the description of Olathe as “little Olathe” and Emporia as “a large town, almost a city.” Being from Olathe myself, I found this to be ironic obviously as today Olathe is the fifth largest city in Kansas. In 1960, however, the population was just under 11,000. (It now sits at a little over 125,000. Wikipedia). Emporia’s population in 1960? Over 18,000 (Garden City’s population was a little over 11,000). So you can see the how much suburban life has grown in the state of Kansas. I also related with the book well as both men traveled from Olathe to Holcomb to commit the murder – the same route my mom (ma) takes to see my dad (pa) minus the whole Interstate thing. The route includes Emporia, McPherson, Great Bend, and Larned, three of which are mentioned in the book.
And so, I would definitely recommend In Cold Blood to any native Kansan, current resident of Kansas, someone who has been in Kansas, or anyone interested in a thrilling crime novel read. The one caution is that the book is not for the faint of heart. As I read it, I almost had to continue reminding myself that the novel details a terrible massacre that actually happened – and in terrible fashion. For nothing more than money. Capote saves the actual events of the crime for the third section of the novel, and after reading the account given by Perry Smith, we are given this information.
Duntz (a detective) asks smith, “Added up, how much money did you get from the Clutters?”
“Between forty and fifty dollars.”
This part hit me hard, and the entire novel is based around the two murderers. You follow them from Olathe to Mexico, through the Mojave desert, back to Kansas City, out east to Florida, through the Lone Star State, and out west to Nevada. As you read about the two men, you almost begin to feel pity for them, especially for Perry Smith who apparently had not been shown much love in his pathetic life. Overall, however, you begin to see what John Calvin describes as the depravity of man. The novel brings that fact to life. If you believe man is basically good, this book may change your mind.
In conclusion, after reading the novel, I have a new found appreciation for native Kansans and the state of Kansas. I find that my often pretentious city-folk stereotypes of small town folk are once again proved to be wrong. The novel makes me proud that I’m a Kansan and that my dad lives in Holcomb (and my roommate is from Holcomb!).
I had to do a project for a class that is actually a joke this semester. I decided to do it over In Cold Blood. Here’s what I came up with:
Hope the link works!