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‘Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland’ by Patrick Radden Keefe ****

Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, which blends together history and a particular true crime case, was the winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing.  I have travelled to Northern Ireland many times before, and am fascinated by the history of the country.  I had been drawn to the book for some time before I found a copy to borrow on my library’s app.

43363624._sy475_The prologue of Say Nothing begins in July 2013, in the library of Boston College, which ‘holds the most comprehensive collection of Irish political and cultural artefacts in the United States’.  Here in 2013, writes Radden Keefe, ‘two Belfast detectives arrive, and take back with them a series of secret files… [which] contained sensitive and dangerous secrets.’

Part of the focus of Say Nothing is the disappearance of thirty eight-year-old widow Jean McConville, from a small home in the notorious Divis Flats in Belfast.  She was the mother of ten children, and four more who died in infancy.  Throughout, Radden Keefe relates details of her home life, and later her case, to the societal conditions in Belfast at the time, showing that Jean’s circumstances were far from unusual: ‘But this was Belfast in 1972, where immense, unruly families were the norm, so Jean McConville wasn’t looking for any prizes, and she didn’t get any.’

Radden Keefe makes Jean’s case feel so immediate; he writes, for instance, the following about the circumstances of her disappearance: ‘But when they opened the door, a gang of people burst inside.  It happened so abruptly that none of the McConville children could say precisely how many there were – it was roughly eight people, but it could have been ten or twelve.  There were men and women.  Some had balaclavas pulled across their faces; others wore nylon stockings over their heads, which twisted their features into ghoulish masks.  At least one of them was carrying a gun.’  These people were the McConvilles’ neighbours.  They dragged Jean away, using her son Michael as a decoy, and left little trace behind them.

Michael McConville becomes the focus of one of the earlier chapters, in which Radden Keefe examines how he spent his time during the Troubles.  Michael ‘spent most of his time thinking about pigeons’, as opposed to the other children, who made danger their playground.  These children would ‘scuttle outside and crawl through the skeletons of burned-out lorries, trampoline on rusted box-spring mattresses, or hide in a stray bathtub that lay abandoned amid the rubble.’

We learn much more about Jean as the book goes on.  After her husband’s death to cancer, she, who ‘had been delicate by temperament to begin with, fell into a heavy depression’, and became a recluse.  She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and had little support from those outside of her home.  According to Michael, his mother was ‘an overworked, depressed, psychologically fragile’ woman, who ‘spent her days cocooned in her flat, smoking cigarettes and juggling children and doing laundry by hand.’  A day before she was dragged from their flat, attest her children, she did not come home from bingo.  She had been forcibly taken to an army barracks after being ‘tied to a chair, beaten and interrogated’.

Jean’s story is, of course, heartbreaking, as is the majority of the historical and political context against which her disappearance occurred.  After she is taken, her children are left alone in the flat, having to fend for themselves: ‘They held onto one another, marooned inside the flat.  Bedtime was suspended and dishes piled up in the sink.’  Helen, the eldest McConville daughter, takes charge of her younger siblings, and receives no help whatsoever from their cruel neighbours, or the Catholic church, who were ‘unsympathetic’ to the McConvilles’ plight.  Soon, rumours began to spread about Jean’s disappearance, with some believing that she ‘had absconded of her own free will, abandoning her children to shack up with a British soldier.’  The children are eventually taken into care, where many of them are treated in appalling ways, the traumas of which profoundly affect their adult lives.

Radden Keefe’s writing pulled me in immediately.  He covers the historical and political background with impeccable control, and although the information within the book could quite easily have become dense, he makes it accessible.  The author has such a handle on complex and tumultuous periods of Northern Irish history.  Radden Keefe’s prose is informative, intelligent, and intoxicating.  He focuses on many different individuals throughout, who all have a part to play in the wider story.

Say Nothing is so much more than a true crime book; it is a social, political, classist, and geographical history.   Radden Keefe writes at length about the IRA, Sinn Fein, and tensions between Northern Ireland and the British government, and focuses on individuals who had quite a part to play during this period, such as Gerry Adams.  Of course, there is a great deal of shocking content here, some of which I found quite difficult to read.  Radden Keefe examines the myriad concerns which the wider political context fostered, all of which are intertwined with the story of Jean and her children.  Say Nothing is fascinating and incredibly thorough, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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‘Unbelievable: A True Story of Doubt and Betrayal’ by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong ****

Like many people, I’m sure, I was intrigued by the Netflix series ‘Unbelievable’, and am pleased that I had the chance to read the book before sinking into the series.  Unbelievable: A True Story of Doubt and Betrayal has been written by two detectives, T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, on their ‘relentless hunt for justice’.  For the article entitled ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape’, which preceded this book-length investigation, the authors received a Pulitzer Prize.

Unbelievable follows a true crime case from its beginning.  In August 2008, an eighteen-year-old Lynnwood, Seattle resident named Marie reported that she had been raped by a masked man, who had broken into her bedroom.  Marie had been living in foster care for some years, and her vulnerability was exploited by those who first interviewed her.  Ultimately, they pushed her into saying9781786090072 that she had made the story up, as there were too many inconsistencies.

Miller and Armstrong noted that they had ‘heard from people in Marie’s life who had doubts.  And when the police had confronted Marie about those doubts, she had wavered, then buckled, saying she had made the story up – because her foster mom wasn’t answering her calls, because her boyfriend was now just a friend, because she wasn’t used to being alone.’  She was consequently charged with making a false report, and faced criminal prosecution.

In 2011, two female detectives, Stacey Galbraith and Edna Hendershot, were working in Colorado.  They realised that a serial rapist was on the loose, ‘one whose calculated method suggested experience in the army – or the police’, and noted the strong similarities with Marie’s case.  He had a very particular modus operandi, which allowed them to link the cases together.  They decided that Marie’s “false report” ‘seemed worthy of a second look’.  She soon became newsworthy, and was spoken about nationally.  Miller and Armstrong write: ‘In Washington and beyond, Marie’s story became an exhibit in a centuries-long argument about credibility and rape.’

The prose of Unbelievable is absorbing and accessible, and statistics have been woven in throughout, which constantly remind the reader that Marie’s experience is far from unique.  The tone throughout feels just right with regard to the story; it is not wholly journalistic, but is easy to read whilst still being accurate, hard-hitting, and insightful.  Miller and Armstrong detail how the subsequent investigation panned out, and just how much work actually goes into getting to the bottom of a crime.

Unbelievable is incredibly moving, and highlights the huge injustices which exist in the justice system, not just in the United States, but all over the developed world.  Marie’s story is just one of many important cases in which the most vulnerable people are not believed, or are coerced into retracting their stories for whatever reason.  Unbelievable is a highly compelling book, and one which I would wholeheartedly recommend.

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‘The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City’ by Laura Tillman ****

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City is journalist Laura Tillman’s first book.  In it, Tillman investigates the aftermath of a terrible crime.  In March 2003, in Brownsville, Texas – one of the poorest cities in the United States, and located just metres from the Mexican border – a young couple named John Allen Rubio (22) and Angela Camacho (23) murdered their three young children; three-year-old Julissa, one-year-old John Stephan, and two-month-old Mary Jane.

9781472152145Tillman writes at the outset that she was sent to report on the state of the building in which Rubio and Camacho lived, five years after the killings.  It was already incredibly run down, with boards over the windows, and poor sanitation.  In the aftermath, ‘a consensus developed in the community that it should be destroyed.’  The case itself was a secondary concern for Tillman, but it was something which inordinately became her focus.  Her subsequent investigation ‘sprawled into a six-year inquiry into the larger significance of such acts, ones so difficult to imagine or explain that their perpetrators are often discussed as monsters alien to humanity.’

The result of Tillman’s investigation is described as ‘a brilliant exploration of some of the age’s most important social issues, from poverty to mental illness to the death penalty, and a profound meditation on the truly human forces that drive them.’ Kirkus describes The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts as ‘a Helter-Skelter for our time – unsettling in the extreme but written with confidence and deep empathy.’

In The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, Tillman speaks to lawyers, relatives, and neighbours within the community, as well as to John Allen Rubio, who has been sentenced to the death penalty.  At first, this correspondence is via letter – she describes him as ‘candid and conversational in a way I found captivating’, and includes segments of what he writes to her – but she later goes to visit him in prison, where he lives largely in isolation.  She notes the importance of the case, and all it brought with it: ‘That the victims were children, that their father was from Brownsville, that an explanation seemed always out of reach, had caused people to question their understanding of their community, their spirituality, the values they held as universal.’ We are never party to the opinions of Angela Camacho, who refuses to respond to Tillman’s interview requests.  She too is serving three concurrent life sentences for the murders, but has not been given the death penalty.

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts is often incredibly chilling.  Tillman writes about Rubio’s motivation for the murders; he claimed that his children ‘were possessed by demons at the time of their death.  In his narrative, he’s the good guy thrust into a world where evil can inhabit any form, even children.  While his actions seem sinister to us, he knew that he had no choice.’  Tillman then goes on to explain the discomfort which she feels during her investigation, and her feeling of being an imposter: ‘I’d sought it out, I’d crowded close to a story to which I had no innate right.  It was his family, his trial, his town.  It was his life and his death.  But as I began to learn how the crime continued to affect those around me, I realized that this was not an isolated act, but a wave moving out in all directions, pushing on those in its path.’

Tillman examines Rubio’s background, lived in acute poverty, and learns that was abused by his father, who used to give him alcohol from the age of five.  His mother, a prostitute, sold him to older men for sex from the age of twelve.  He has a history of systematic drug abuse, which has drastically reduced his IQ over the years.  She seeks to understand Rubio’s upbringing, and the reverberations which this has had for him.  She does add a more human element to proceedings; rather than seeing Rubio as a total monster, she presents him as a human being, albeit an incredibly and incurably flawed one.  She continually asks herself questions: ‘Is it easier to believe that John is a “bad guy,” and that what he did was “evil,” or is it easier to blame the circumstances of his life?  It’s cognitively overwhelming to combine these factors, to see him both as the catalyst and the entity upon which other catalyzing forces acted.’

Throughout, Tillman discusses the difficulties which she had in engaging with people within the community, but also the eventual willingness of others to speak to her: ‘When I interviewed people about the murders, some cautioned that the crime was a black hole that held nothing within.  Heinous crimes are like that, people said.  They do not teach lessons, they only confirm the worst suspicions about what can happen in our world…  Yet, the same people who compassionately issued this warning also told me, often at length, of all the crime had come to mean in their lives, how it had challenged their beliefs or fortified them.’

A lot of the reviews which I have read about The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts express disappointment.  Many readers have come to this as a piece of true crime reportage; whilst Tillman does write at length about the murders, this comes toward the middle of the book.  She places more attention upon the effects, rather than the crime itself.  Reviewers have also mentioned that they feel Tillman put too much of herself into the book, but to me, the inclusion of her own thoughts and feelings added balance to the whole.  I was interested in her personal story, and her motivations for following the case as a young reporter years after they occurred.  She sums this up by writing: ‘I didn’t pick the story of Julissa and John Stephan and Mary Jane because it was necessarily any worse than the rest, but being in my backyard, it exerted an unusual pull, one that didn’t seem to let go, more than a decade later.’

I am fascinated by books of this type, which examine the wider implications of a crime, and feel that Tillman delivered what she set out to do.  I admire her approach, and particularly liked the way in which she captured the psychology and cultural climate which existed behind the crimes.  Her response is sympathetic to a point, but comes across as incredibly measured.  Nothing here is sensationalised, and it feels like a fitting tribute to Julissa, John Stephan and Mary Jane, whose lives were so cruelly ended at the hands of those who should have loved them most.

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A Month of Favourites: ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote

The Spectator describes the book as ‘The American dream turning into the American nightmare…  a remarkable book’, and its blurb heralds it ‘a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative’.

Published in 1966 and dedicated to Jack Dunphy and Harper Lee with Capote’s ‘love and gratitude’, In Cold Blood is ‘controversial and compelling’.  It ‘reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and children.  Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime, as well as the effects which it had on those involved.  At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickok, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible, yet entirely and frighteningly human’.  All of the material which Capote says is ‘not derived from my own observation’ is taken from official records and interviews ‘conducted over a considerable period of time’.9780141182575

Capote masterfully sets the scene and tone of the whole from the outset: ‘The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there”.  Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clean air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West.  The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang…  and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes’.  Holcomb itself is described as ‘an aimless congregation of buildings divided in the centre by the main-line tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad…  After rain, or when snowfalls thaw, the streets, unnamed, unshaded, unpaved, turn from the thickest dust into the driest mud’.

As in his fiction, his depiction and control of every single scene is gripping and vivid.  This is particularly true when he describes the event which was to shake the entire community: ‘But then, in the earliest hours of the morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises – on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles.  At the time, not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them – four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.  But afterwards the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy recreating them over and again – those sombre explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbours viewed each other strangely, and as strangers’.

The Clutter family – Herbert and Bonnie, and the youngest of their four children, sixteen-year-old Nancy and fourteen-year-old Kenyon – are the victims, all of whom were tied up and shot at close range in their home in 1959.  Descended from German immigrants who moved to Kansas in 1880, they were a prominent and well-respected family in the area, and all were profoundly shocked at their murder: ‘Feeling wouldn’t run half so high if this had happened to anyone except the Clutters.  Anyone less admired.  Prosperous.  Secure.  But that family represented everything people hereabouts really value and respect, and that such a thing could happen to them – well, it’s like being told there is no God.  It makes life seem pointless.  I don’t think people are so much frightened as they are deeply depressed’.  The peripheral characters which Capote makes use of, both in terms of testimony and as part of his beautifully prosaic telling of the murders, are wonderfully and strikingly described.  Local postmistress Myrtle Clare, for example, is ‘a gaunt trouser-wearing, woollen-shirted, cowboy-booted, ginger-coloured, gingery-tempered woman of unrevealed age… but promptly revealed opinions, most of which are announced in a voice of rooster-crow altitude and penetration’.

The rendering of the Clutters’ story is incredibly powerful and resonant, and has been so well sculpted.  Capote has been incredibly clever in that he follows both the victims and the perpetrators, explaining their pasts and the motives of the killers.  He is almost compassionate towards Perry Smith, and this gives an interesting and memorable slant to the whole.  In Cold Blood is distinctly Capote’s work; it rings with such understanding of those involved, without exception.  Real depth has been given to the whole, and it feels as though the reader is watching events unfold when they happen, rather from the position of retrospect.  In Cold Blood is a compelling and important piece of non-fiction, and it has made its way straight onto my favourites list.

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‘The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial’ by Maggie Nelson ****

I was supposed to be reading established poet and non-fiction author Maggie Nelson’s  The Argonauts for a book club I’m a member of, but unable as I was to find a copy, I plumped for The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial instead.  This piece of extended non-fiction, which deals with the aftermath of her aunt’s unsolved murder in the late sixties, and new evidence pointing to her killer, was first published in 2007.  Of all of Nelson’s books, this was the one which appealed to me the most.

The blurb piqued my interest immediately when browsing for Nelson’s books on my local library catalogue.  It reads: ‘After asking for a lift to her hometown for spring break, Jane Mixer, a first-year law student at the University of Michigan, was brutally murdered in 1969; her body was found the next day, a few miles away from campus.’  Jane was shot twice in the head, and then ‘strangled viciously with a stocking that did not belong to her’.  Nelson, whose aunt was killed before she was born, uses The Red Parts to trace her aunt’s death, as well as the trial which took place thirty-five years afterwards.  Jane’s case was reopened in 2004 ‘after a DNA match identified a new suspect, who would soon be arrested and tried.’9781784705794

‘Resurrecting her interior world during the trial – in all its horror, grief, obsession, recklessness, scepticism and downright confusion – Maggie Nelson has produced a work of profound integrity and, in its subtle indeterminacy, deadly moral precision.’   The Red Parts has been hailed by various critics as ‘remarkable’, ‘Didion-esque’, and a ‘darkly intelligent page-turner’, which gives ‘the sense that the writer is writing for her life’, as well as Jane’s.

Within her book, Nelson is candid from the very beginning.  She writes of the process of putting such a painful familial past down on paper, and how the trial and its evidence impacted upon her, her sister, and her mother, Jane’s elder sister.   In her preface, Nelson calls the book ‘a peculiar, pressurized meditation on time’s relation to violence’.  She goes on to say: ‘One aim I had while writing was to allow the events of the trial, the events of my childhood, the events of Jane’s murder, and the act of writing to share a single spatial and temporal moment.’

Initially, police attributed Jane’s murder to a man who had killed many other young girls in what were collectively called the ‘Michigan Murders’.  The new evidence found, however, attributed her murder to someone else entirely, a retired nurse.   When Nelson sees him on trial, she writes: ‘I feel disoriented too.  Where I imagined I might find the “face of evil,” I am finding the face of Elmer Fudd.’  She goes on to describe the difficulty which she has in coming to terms with what he may have done: ‘I watch the light and I watch his hands and I try to imagine them around the trigger of a gun, I try to imagine them strangling someone.  Strangling Jane.  I know this kind of imagining is useless and awful.  I wonder how I’d feel if I imagined it over and over again and later found out that he didn’t do it.’

The Red Parts is very brave and directly honest; it is as objective as it can be, and whilst emotional at times, it does not read – as one imagines it so easily could have done – as a piece of overblown melodrama on the part of the family.  She talks openly about all of the grief in her life, from her father’s death, to seeing her boyfriend overdose more than once.  The Red Parts is a multilayered and well thought through work, which merges biography and autobiography in a seamless and interesting manner.  Nelson’s writing is engaging from the very beginning, and is sure to appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the likes of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

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‘One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and Its Aftermath’ by Asne Seierstad ****

For the purposes of background to this review, I have copied the original blurb: ‘On 22 July 2011 Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 of his fellow Norwegians in a terrorist atrocity that shocked the world. One of Us is the definitive account of the massacres and the subsequent trial. But more than that, it is the compelling story of Anders Breivik and a select group of his victims. As we follow the path to their inevitable collision, it becomes clear just what was lost in that one day.’

9781844089185It’s always going to be difficult to review a book about such a sickening and notorious crime as the massacre which happened on the island of Utoya in July 2011, and the bomb attack which happened in central Oslo just beforehand.  Norway is one of my favourite countries, and Oslo is certainly one of the most peaceful and friendly places I have ever visited.  I was even more shocked, therefore, when I learnt about Breivik’s crime.  What occurred was reported in the British media, but relatively few details emerged about the trial. When I spotted One of Us in Fopp, I decided to pick it up to learn as much as I could.  The fact that it is written by Asne Seierstad also swayed me, as I very much enjoyed her fascinating The Bookseller of Kabul when I read it a few years ago.

One of Us is the very pinnacle of excellent journalism.  Seierstad has taken her subject and written about his entire life, as well as taking into account elements of his parents’ lives to see what, if anything, rubbed off on Breivik and caused him to have the views which he so firmly holds.  Seierstad is thorough, but this will surprise nobody who is familiar with her work.  I have read several reviews which stated that One of Us is far too drawn out in places.  I did not get this impression at all; rather, the very depth of the details which she included, and the scope of her study, was of the utmost importance to try and understand Breivik and his motivations.  (I still do not, but that is by the by).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I learnt far more than I did throughout the original media coverage, and in retrospect, I feel that One of Us is one of the most important books I have ever read.  I admire Seierstad and the amount of scholarship which has gone into every single page of this book.  She gives such weight to the victims, picking out several of them and giving their backstories, which again was such an important element of the whole for me.  One of Us is a masterful work, which has been fluidly translated into English.  It is a book which I would – and will – recommend to everyone.

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The Gregory Peck-a-long: ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote *****

It will come as no surprise, I am sure, to say that I have wanted to read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences for such a long time, and my longing to do so was even higher after the Capote Readathon which Lizzi and I created last summer.  In Cold Blood is the fifth book upon my Classics Club list, and a fitting final read for my American Literature month. A lot of the information within this stunning piece of non-fiction was included in ‘Capote’, a film which I very much enjoyed.  The Spectator describes the book as ‘The American dream turning into the American nightmare…  a remarkable book’, and its blurb heralds it ‘a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative’.

Published in 1966 and dedicated to Jack Dunphy and Harper Lee with Capote’s ‘love and gratitude’, In Cold Blood is ‘controversial and compelling’.  It ‘reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and children.  Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime, as well as the effects which it had on those involved.  At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickok, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible, yet entirely and frighteningly human’.  All of the material which Capote says is ‘not derived from my own observation’ is taken from official records and interviews ‘conducted over a considerable period of time’.9780141182575

Capote masterfully sets the scene and tone of the whole from the outset: ‘The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there”.  Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clean air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West.  The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang…  and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes’.  Holcomb itself is described as ‘an aimless congregation of buildings divided in the centre by the main-line tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad…  After rain, or when snowfalls thaw, the streets, unnamed, unshaded, unpaved, turn from the thickest dust into the driest mud’.

As in his fiction, his depiction and control of every single scene is gripping and vivid.  This is particularly true when he describes the event which was to shake the entire community: ‘But then, in the earliest hours of the morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises – on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles.  At the time, not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them – four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.  But afterwards the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy recreating them over and again – those sombre explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbours viewed each other strangely, and as strangers’.

The Clutter family – Herbert and Bonnie, and the youngest of their four children, sixteen-year-old Nancy and fourteen-year-old Kenyon – are the victims, all of whom were tied up and shot at close range in their home in 1959.  Descended from German immigrants who moved to Kansas in 1880, they were a prominent and well-respected family in the area, and all were profoundly shocked at their murder: ‘Feeling wouldn’t run half so high if this had happened to anyone except the Clutters.  Anyone less admired.  Prosperous.  Secure.  But that family represented everything people hereabouts really value and respect, and that such a thing could happen to them – well, it’s like being told there is no God.  It makes life seem pointless.  I don’t think people are so much frightened as they are deeply depressed’.  The peripheral characters which Capote makes use of, both in terms of testimony and as part of his beautifully prosaic telling of the murders, are wonderfully and strikingly described.  Local postmistress Myrtle Clare, for example, is ‘a gaunt trouser-wearing, woollen-shirted, cowboy-booted, ginger-coloured, gingery-tempered woman of unrevealed age… but promptly revealed opinions, most of which are announced in a voice of rooster-crow altitude and penetration’.

The rendering of the Clutters’ story is incredibly powerful and resonant, and has been so well sculpted.  Capote has been incredibly clever in that he follows both the victims and the perpetrators, explaining their pasts and the motives of the killers.  He is almost compassionate towards Perry Smith, and this gives an interesting and memorable slant to the whole.  In Cold Blood is distinctly Capote’s work; it rings with such understanding of those involved, without exception.  Real depth has been given to the whole, and it feels as though the reader is watching events unfold when they happen, rather from the position of retrospect.  In Cold Blood is a compelling and important piece of non-fiction, and it has made its way straight onto my favourites list.

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