Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. New York: Random House, 1966.
With In Cold Blood, Truman Capote not only established himself as a major voice among writers of his generation, but also created the prototype for several new genres. The book has been classified as a “true crime” book, a “nonfiction novel,” “new journalism,” and “creative nonfiction.” It anticipates titles ranging from Ann Rules’ The Stranger beside Me and Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter to Gay Talese’s Honor Thy Father, to Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song.
In Cold Blood focuses on two petty criminals who rely on jailhouse hearsay in targeting a Kansas farm family for robbery. When it turns out that there is almost no money on the premises, the two armed intruders decide to kill everyone in the house to avoid being charged with the botched robbery. Of course, the brutal massacre of this very respectable, very well liked, and completely innocent family puts more heat on the murderers than their botched robbery ever would have. They do initially escape to Mexico, but when they come back to the United States, they are captured in Las Vegas. The narrative details their turning on each other during their police interrogations, their trial, and their time on death row before their eventual executions by hanging. The story is truly gripping, and without at all excusing their crimes, Capote allows the reader to understand some of what led the killers to commit such crimes. They and their victims are shown in all of their human complexity, adding layers of meaning to the pathos and tragedy of the whole story.
Carr, Caleb. The Alienist. 1994.
The Alienist is a historical thriller featuring an “alienist,” or psychiatrist, who is tracking a serial killer in New York City in the last years of the nineteenth century. The novel provides a vivid portrait of its historical moment. It conveys both the distance and the linkages between the privileged existences of “respectable” classes of the period and the much more precarious lives of the masses crowded into the city’s other neighborhoods. Moreover, through its main character, Dr. Kreizler, the novel provides a detailed look at the ways in which early psychiatrists functioned.
But the tremendous commercial and critical success of the novel cannot be explained entirely by Carr’s painstaking attention to period detail. For a sizable number of mystery-detective series have been set during the Victorian and Edwardian periods in both the United Kingdom and the United States. In its depiction of a turn-of-the-century serial killer, The Alienist bridges the gothic and detective genres—and the corresponding assumptions that evil is a preternatural force and that evil is a consequence of naturalistic influences. In effect, through the clinically described and yet unfathomably deranged figure of the serial killer, Carr created a narrative that appealed equally to two readerships with very different expectations. Critically, the novel demonstrated the fundamental correspondences among all the genres broadly classifiable as suspense.
Previous Posts in This Series:
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/24/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-1-2/.
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 3-4: https://academeblog.org/2015/07/02/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-3-4/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 5-6: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/07/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-5-6/
The final post in each series is followed by links to all of the previous posts in that series.
America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/02/13370/
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/